Marijuana Business

Mandating Indoor Cannabis Cultivation Is Bad for the Environment

Legalizing interstate sales and allowing outdoor growing would reduce the cannabis industry's energy consumption.


A new study published this week in the journal Nature Sustainability is critical of the U.S. cannabis industry's significant carbon footprint and contribution to greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions and climate change.

As one might expect, a study on cannabis and climate change caught the attention of the media. Predictably, too, some headline writers largely—or even entirely—missed what I think is the key point of the study. That key point is the word indoors, which appears right in the title of the study: The Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Indoor Cannabis Production in the United States, by three researchers at Colorado State University. Indeed, while the report takes aim at large, energy-intensive, indoor, warehouse-style cannabis cultivation, it also highlights more sustainable ways to grow cannabis: both outdoors and in greenhouses.

"Their research shows that U.S. indoor cannabis cultivation results in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of between 2,283 and 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of dried flower," a CSU report on the study details. The study looks beyond mere electricity use from indoor cannabis growing operations to highlight holistic data on GHGs from "other energy sources, such as natural gas, upstream GHG emissions from the production and use of material inputs, and downstream GHG emissions from the handling of waste." Other data the researchers crunched includes water and fertilizer use; heating and air conditioning; grow lights; transportation; CO2 emissions and sequestration; vent fans; heaters; nutrients; and soil.

The energy demands of indoor growing are not exactly breaking news. Commentators have long argued that the cannabis industry can and should adopt more sustainable approaches. A report last year indicated the environmental benefits of growing cannabis outdoors, including the fact that it's easier, more cost-effective, uses less electricity, and produces less waste.

Why aren't more commercial growers cultivating outdoors? It's because a tangle of federal, state, and local laws make doing so legally impossible in many places. Before cannabis was legalized in a handful of states earlier this century, federal, state, and local bans on cultivating cannabis long forced growers indoors.

"Indoor growing helped avoid law enforcement, opening new possibilities for innovation and technological advancement," Green Entrepreneur noted last year. "At the same time, indoor cultivators realized they could grow cannabis with increased control, vigor, and specificity."

But even in those states where cultivating, selling, buying, and using commercial (along with medical) cannabis is now legal, many growers still raise their plants indoors. In many cases, regulations are to blame.

The study authors rightly argue that the "high energy consumption of cannabis is due in part to how the product is regulated," citing rules, such as some found in Colorado, that require grow operations to be securely enclosed and located at or near the point of sale.

"The initial amendment legalizing recreational cannabis in Colorado required the majority of cannabis product to be sold at a collocated retail location," the study notes. "This restriction led to cultivation practices occurring within the city limits of Denver, Colorado. This, along with security, theft and quality concerns, consequently led to the cultivation of cannabis indoors."

"Even if growers wanted to venture outdoors, many local governments in densely populated areas, like the City of Denver's, ban outdoor operations," Westworld reported in 2017. In other words, Denver requires cannabis sold in Denver to be grown in Denver. Just not outdoors.

In some states where cannabis is legal to use, laws discourage more sustainable growing practices. For example, in Washington State, where I live, cannabis use is legal. But state law does not allow anyone except licensed commercial growers to cultivate cannabis.

Commercial cannabis regulations in other states suffer from these and other shortcomings.

Sacramento County, California, bans outdoor cultivation. The city of Fresno does, too. An ordinance in Huntington Beach, California, requires that all commercial cannabis grown in the city must be raised "in appropriately secured, enclosed, and ventilated structures, so as not to be visible to the general public."

In a 2019 piece, a Forbes writer noted that "some current building and energy codes actually force indoor growers to use more energy than necessary."

The interplay of state and federal laws also contributes greatly to the problem. 

Take three states that recently legalized cannabis. While New Jersey's climate is conducive to outdoor growing operations, two other states—Montana and South Dakota—offer a less hospitable growing seasoned, Marijuana Business Daily reported after the November elections. The federal prohibition of cannabis means that cannabis may not be transported across state lines, and that means all cannabis that's going to be sold legally in a state must be grown in that state. In a place where the outdoor growing season is short, the prohibition of interstate sales needlessly promotes indoor growing. If we treated cannabis like other agricultural products, states like Montana and South Dakota could grow outdoors in the summer and buy from other states in the colder months.

None of this is to say that growing cannabis outdoors is a slam dunk. It carries most of the same risks as any other outdoor crop production, including drought, flooding, other severe weather, pestilence, natural disasters, and theft and other security risks. Outdoor growing may also require the application of additional pesticides.

My point isn't that growing cannabis outdoors is the only way it can or should be done. Rather, growers of cannabis—just like growers of lettuce or beans—should be allowed to choose the place and methods of cultivation they want to use.

I wrote a whole book about ways that federal, state, and local regulations often promote unsustainable food and agricultural practices over more sustainable ones. Growing cannabis can be done sustainably. If only the law would allow for it.

NEXT: The Alt-Currency Martyr

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  1. And destroy quality of life for entire neighborhoods.

    The stink from one or two plants growing outside prevents neighbours from sitting outside.

    1. Well, in some areas, for sure. But, certainly we could take a tiny portion of those 92 million acres currently used for corn production (most of it for producing ethanol, which is an environmental “loser”), far from anyone’s “nose,” and produce all the pot the entire nation desires. (Yeah, I know, it wouldn’t be of the same “quality, but still…).

      Apply some genetic technology, enhancing drought and insect resistance, or whatever, and well… triple or quadruple the current production per acre. Of course, then the retail price would plummet,
      and no doubt pot farmers will demand “protection” and “subsidies” for their crops. Which is, of course, necessary for national security, and… oh, hell. Just forget I even brought it up……

      1. And it would all get stolen.

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      2. Or just grow it inside anyway. The system isn’t broken, and AGW is bullshit anyway.

        This article is shit. Which is now the norm for Reason.

        1. Yet, here you are, hanging out on the Reason website every day.

          1. Oh no!
            Someone criticized neo-Reason!

            I’LL save the day!

            1. My Hero!

            2. I’m waiting for the next sequel, ‘ WK4: The White Knight Dies’. Which will be an uplifting comedy.

              1. It’ll be a highlight film of squawking birds flying to their deaths into picture windows.

    2. The “stink” of these plants is as NOTHING, compared to the stench of Rob Misek’s Holocaust denial!

      1. Which doesn’t compare to the stench of your breath, on account of your shit eating, sarc.

        1. Maybe Rob and SQRLSY could engage in a shit eating, Holocaust defying suicide pact. I’m not clear on the logistics, but the end result would be good.

          1. “Relax! Just Because I am Right and You are Wrong, Doesn’t Mean that I Want to Steal ‘Your’ Woman”

            (Or, in your specific case, “your” maggot-ridden, decaying, road-killed skunk).


            1. So are you going to commit suicide finally? If so, that would be just terrific. I’ll even donate a bucket of dog shit to your church.

            2. More incoherent gibberish from sarc.

              1. Speaking of sarc, he must be putting his all energy into SQRLSY these days after embarrassing himself to no end by ignoring us so hard that he confessed to keeping a notebook to detail all of our moral transgressions in these comments.

                1. That was weird when he said that.

                  How many times can one man be broken on the same website?

                2. Wait. Sarc is slowly turning into hihn?

                  1. moar bold! really miss that guy.

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    4. Hilarious. “Destroy quality of life for entire neighborhoods”? Take it easy Karen. Is it really that bad?
      Growers that don’t cover the smell are not very common. Most people are discreet. Two plants would not give off much smell unless they were inside your house. I know people that grow “trees” in their basements and garages and the neighbors are unaware. No grower, pro or recreation, wants attention or conflict. Stealth is universal, even on legal grows.
      If your neighbors “two plants” bother you that much, you could talk to him. I have never met a grower that tried to piss off his neighbors. It is bad for business and for security purposes. Besides, Karen, the law would be on your side if you can see and smell those two plants. You could easily talk to the grower but you won’t. You “male Karens” need to bitch.

      1. You have obviously never lived near someone growing two 10 ft cannabis trees 50 ft from your deck.

        Stick to what you know dipshit.

        1. If you can see those plants, it is more than likely a violation. In Colorado, it is a violation. Talk to the grower. They will remedy the situation or they can get arrested and fined. No grower wants the attention of law enforcement. Even a person that is completely legal would hate to have law enforcement knocking on their door.
          In addition, if those plants are 10′ tall then you can also make a case that the owner is growing more than he is allowed when those plants finish. If your neighbor has over 2 ounces of finished product, it is illegal. 10′ plants would produce several pounds. So, I guarantee you that he doesn’t want attention for law enforcement.
          So, be a man and talk to the guy. And stop spouting fruity nonsense like “it ruins quality of life for the WHOLE neighborhood”. You can’t speak for everyone in the neighborhood, can you, Karen?

          1. In many parts of Washington State, the law enforcement policy is to ignore most pot related complaints. So it really depends on where you live.

          2. A fence which blocks the sight doesn’t stop the smell.

            By your own math a legal plant producing 2 ounces could only be 4 inches tall, dipshit.

          3. If you have a medical card in Illinois, which anybody can get, you can grow 5 plants. No limit on finished product. MJ legalisation is the only thing Illinois ever got right. Ever.

            1. I agree. That is the only thing that they have ever gotten right. I livde there 21 years.
              No med card needed in Colorado. You can have 6 for each adult in your house but you are limited to a usable 2 ounces. It is weird, but, we get by.

              1. hold on coppers I’m using up the unusable third ounce real quick

        2. so move.

        3. My wife’s got the card and had 3 ten foot plants out last summer. Completely legal. We’ve also got a pond full of frogs, 50 some trees, thousands of plants, coons, Turkey vultures and any other bird or animal that can tolerate the climate and doesn’t piss me off too much. Maybe you should find a little more space somewhere instead of bitching about your neighbor. You know. Live and let live. That whole libertarian thing.

      2. Farmers farm with much stinkier materials. No reason it needs to be in a residential area or near anyone’s place of business other than other farms.

        1. The solution in more inhabited areas is to simply grow it indoors.

          1. But why do it in densely inhabited areas at all? Is urban farming an efficient use of land??!

            1. Because people want to grow it for themselves, and farm land isn’t cheap.

              1. Farm land is cheaper than urban land. And growing your own is small thinking. This is a temporary phase before cannabis cultivation is truly normalized.

                1. Except if you already live in an urban area and want to grow your own, then that’s where you’re going to grow it.

                  I’m sure as time goes on, more will be grown in farms, but currently, at least in Michigan, it’s easier/cheaper to grow it yourself, or get it on the black market. Plus, you have to get your license scanned when you buy at dispensaries, and it’s still illegal federally. I don’t need my name on any more lists.

                2. Bullshit. A 10 dollar seed produces hundreds of dollars worth of dope that the state can’t tax. Doesn’t seem like small thinking to me.

                3. The state limits the distance between your growsite and the dispensary. They are forcing them to grow onsite or nearby. Something to do with transporting on public roads.

              2. It takes very little growing space to produce multiple pounds of cannabis.

            2. Profitable. Much more so than cucumbers.

        2. I’ll grant you that it’s on par with a pig farm.

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    6. >>The stink from one or two plants growing outside prevents neighbours from sitting outside.

      sure it isn’t you?

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  2. The China virus can fix that.

  3. Mandating?! Check your privilege.

    1. Womandating? Sounds like a lesbian dating app.

    2. The smell coming from even a few plants outside can be overpowering when they’re close to harvest. Outdoor plants tend to be grown much larger.

      In populated areas it makes far more sense to grow indoors. The exhaust portion of the air exchange system typically includes charcoal filters specifically developed for the application. Plus, grow environments are typically sealed tight for a number of reasons. So a proper grow room won’t create a nuisance for the neighbors.

      1. But it’s silly to farm in densely settled areas. We don’t do it for corn or cows or cauliflower, so why for cannabis?

        1. It doesn’t take much ground to grow large quantities of cannabis if you know what you’re doing. In an indoor setting, with the right strain and conditions, plus good horticulture practices, a hundred square foot growing space can produce upwards of 25 pounds of top grade cannabis. You can get more than half of that with similar coverage in a greenhouse.

          Some people obnoxious idiots and don’t care if they stink their neighbors out. I’ve seen a lot of that here in WA. Mind you, I’m not against growing it. I just think it’s really obtrusive to do it outdoors unless it’s a rural location.

          1. If you know what you’re doing, does it take much ground to grow large quantities of broccoli or tobacco? That still doesn’t mean it’s smart to grow such things indoors in a city!

            Are people not thinking of cannabis as a growth industry that could come to rival the volumes of such other farm commodities? Articles and discussions like this still seem to relegate it to the size of clandestine grows of super-potent boutique material instead of thinking in terms of tonnage of more cheaply produced stuff that’d be mass refined into cannabinoids while the remainder goes into animal feed or whatever. They’re thinking like the way tomatoes were thought of centuries back, i.e. an exotic and possibly very toxic product, rather than stuff that’s mass produced for Contadina.

            1. I mean they’re still thinking like hippies instead of thinking of this as agribusiness.

              This is like it’s 200 years ago and soap is something people make for themselves in small quantities, and so expensive that laundry and other cleaning, even washing of hands is commonly done with substitutes such as chalk. They’re thinking of cannabis that needs to be potent so it can be smoked. Washing machines? Who would people waste all that detergent that’s so expensive, instead of saving material by hand laundering? Similarly they need to think of vaping and lozenges filled with cannabinoids extracted in tons from machine-harvested whole hemp plants, then fractionated, with the biomass of the leavings made industrial use of. The hemp plants would be bred for rapid growth and tolerance of farming conditions, not for a high titer of THC, CBD, etc.; that’ll all be taken care of down the line, not bred into the living things.

              1. Most people don’t consume huge quantities of marijuana and can very cheaply produce what they need with high quality seeds that are readily available. Auto flower plants can be grown in a ten inch pot on a widow sill and produce a couple hundred bucks worth of flower. Don’t know why a libertarian would prefer that agribusiness regulated and taxed by the state is preferable.

            2. “If you know what you’re doing, does it take much ground to grow large quantities of broccoli or tobacco?”


              1. Pound of tobacco $15
                Pound of Broccoli $2
                Pound of Marijuana $1000 to $1800

                I don’t get it either. Why would they do that?

                1. ^

    3. Mandates are Tony’s thing.

  4. What about the environmental impact of Doritos?

  5. I sent a submission to reason 5 days ago on how funny it is that government employees(state university) see exactly that government regulation is the problem. I even took the time to call a few state senators to laugh at their ineptitude. No hat tip. No surprise at all that the state is the source of all that is wrong.

    1. “No hat tip.”

      We’re you expecting a mention of your letter to the editor in the roundup or something?

      1. Were. Weird my spell check really wants it to be we’re.

  6. The study authors rightly argue that the “high energy consumption of cannabis is due in part to how the product is regulated,” citing rules, such as some found in Colorado, that require grow operations to be securely enclosed and located at or near the point of sale.

    Emphasis added. Why are alcohol-producing crops like corn and grapes not restricted like that? Surely, for the good of society such crops should be grown indoors!

    1. Growers would rather live out in the country where it is cheaper and safer to grow their crop. No neighbors is much better than growing in an urban environment. Security is an issue in any city. It would not be as big an issue out in the country. They could grow in unheated high tunnel greenhouses and would not have to use electricity for grow lights. Instead, you have indoor grows running high electricity and off-gassing their CO2 in town which really stinks. To keep the stink down, they are required to run carbon scrubbers which is more electricity and more waste.

  7. The entire industry doesn’t put up the greenhouse numbers that Horse face Kerry’s jet creates on a single “climate mission”.

    1. Indeed.

  8. Drug addled Americans is how we got sleepy time Joe and his cadre of far left assholes in government. Big thanks to libertarians there.

    1. Are you actually saying that everyone that uses marijuana is a Democrat? You must be drunk. Have another one, just stay off the roads.

  9. If we made it illegal, we wouldn’t have these problems.

    1. And the quality would improve. Most of the legal stuff in the northwest is inferior to black market pot. Which is telling, as the northwest grows the highest quality pot in the world.

      1. The damp, overcast weather associated with the northwest is not the best environment. Hemp crops are no different. Pot flowers best at low humidity. Anything over 40% is bad news usually, depending on strain. So, to keep down mold and mildew, they are spraying the hell out of that pot with fungicide.
        Maybe that is the trouble in Portland, moldy pot is effecting their brains.

        1. It’s only damp west of the cascades. Even so, a lot of great cannabis is grown around Portland. In WA, it’s a lot easier to grow east of the mountains, given better and cheaper availability of land, less water restrictions, and lower humidity. Eastern Washington produces a massive amount of cannabis.

          1. I guess if it can be grown in Afghanistan and Alaska, it can probably be grown anywhere.

            1. There are some very inventive ways to deal with things like damp weather.

      2. The quality “improves” only if you’re thinking of smoking it. And yeah, that’s the thinking you get when it’s illegal or highly restricted or taxed. Or if they succeed in suppressing vaping.

  10. So, indoor weed growing keeps the glaciers at bay? Sweet!

  11. This is almost the perfect article for the new and improved The only missing is if there was complaining about tariffs on weed from some totalitarian country that essentially broke all the rules of civilized society and was currently engaging in a full blown genocide – that would be the perfect trifecta.

    1. You went from weed tariffs to genocide. It reminds me of “Reefer Madness”.

  12. Vanita Gupta: “I do not support the decriminalization of all drugs.”

    There you go reason liberaltarians. It’s been spelled out for you.

    1. If really hard drugs are legalized, then all the leftist bullshit regarding dealing with related bad behavior has to go away too. Anyone reading this who has ever evicted meth or heroin addicts knows what I’m talking about.

      1. Presumably consumption patterns of narcotics would go back to what they were like 150 years ago. You might still encounter addicts the way you would alcoholics, but that’s not the way most people would use such products.

        1. True. However, heavy users are problematic. They have too many protections for them when their behavior is really horrible. Legalization only works in hand with consequences for bad drug induced behavior.

  13. Not one mention of Trump.

    1. Shocking, isn’t it?

    2. Then you had to go and….


        We alleged “lefty shits” really like to quote our Jordan Peterson. Just came across this passage that applies to the CACLLs who hang out here:

        “There is another typical feature of ideological pursuit: the victims supported by ideologues are always innocent (and it is sometimes true that victims are innocent), and the perpetrators are always evil (evil perpetrators are also not in short supply). But the fact that there exist genuine victims and perpetrators provides no excuse to make low-resolution, blanket statements about the global locale of blameless victimization and evil perpetration — particularly of the type that does not take the presumed innocence of the accused firmly into account. No group guilt should be assumed — and certainly not of the multigenerational kind. It is a certain sign of the accuser’s evil intent, and a harbinger of social catastrophe. But the advantage is that the ideologue, at little practical costs, can construe him or herself both as nemesis of the oppressor and defender of the oppressed. Who needs the fine distinctions that determination of individual guilt or innocence demands when a prize such as that beckons?”

        1. Remember folks, this is coming from the guy who made a riot-club swinging fully-armored officer into a victim, for getting hit once with a six ounce flag and aluminum pole.

          This is the guy who told us that a man who suffered a stroke was a victim who was beaten to death by a fire extinguisher the day before.

          This is the guy that cries and pules and moans that he’s a victim whenever Sevo gives him valuable advice on what he should do with the rest of his life.

          What a hypocritical joke White Knight is.

    3. Well all of this is his fault. We already knew that.

      1. LOL, when you find a total absence of TDS, you go looking for it. But yet we are supposed to believe modern Trumpism isn’t all about playing the victim.

        1. Try to develop a sense of humor. It won’t be easy with your obviously limited intellect, but give it a shot anyway.

          1. Underlying your “sense of humor” is a political identity built on playing the victim.

            1. Fuck off lefty shit.

            2. I figured you wouldn’t understand.

            3. That’s rich coming from a shill for the party who made victimhood aspirational.

  14. The start of Daylight Savings Tine must be Reason holiday.

    Remember back when we were told we had to take two weeks to “flatten the curve” and to “make sure our hospitals weren’t overwhelmed”?

    1. Yea, it was about a year ago.


    We’re not supposed to have soldiers walking the streets as domestic police, suspects are entitled to reasonable bail and a speedy trial, and the most fundamental right is to assemble with other citizens…

    And the opposite is happening, and we’re still acting like it’s all okay.

    1. All in exchange for no mean tweets.

      1. Well worth it if Sullum can finally get a good night’s sleep.

    2. “When fascism comes to America, it will be wearing a pussy hat and tweeting on an iPhone.” – t. Sinclair Lewis

  16. Well worth it if Sullum can finally get a good night’s sleep.

    1. Oy. I’ll never figure this shit out.

  17. This is bad for environment. Please take care of it


  18. stupid commerce clause.

  19. There seems to be a lot of legal problems that need to be work through with legal marijuana. I don’t know if the banking issues are worked out yet? I recall that early legal shops were limited to cash only transactions. And the issue of where it can be grown is highlighted here. With more states legalizing we may well be looking at interstate transport issues. I would also like to hear about private individuals growing for personal use. If you can brew beer and distill spirits, you ought to be able to grow your own weed.

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