With the Canadian government preparing to legalize recreational cannabis for next spring, the environmental impacts of creating such a huge industry has not received much attention. The agricultural needs of cultivating cannabis has been known ever since California’s medical industry began to thrive, so what will be the environmental impact on a brand new Canadian market?
More water demanding than grapes?
A best practices task force working for the Oregon Senate concluded that cannabis plants require much more water than typical crops, especially when using hydroponic techniques.
Water use can be significant for cannabis production, as it can with other agricultural crops. Water consumption data for cannabis are scarce, but at least one scientific review determined that a mature cannabis plant can consume up to 22.7 liters of water per day in the 150‐day growing season.
By comparison, a wine grape plant uses approximately 12.64 liters of water per day. – Oregon Cannabis Environmental Best Practices Task Force
Electricity usage surges with indoor growing
With the unforgiving climate in Canada, the vast majority of cannabis production will be brought indoors, requiring huge amounts of lighting to power the photosynthetic process. Not only will huge amounts of electricity be going to lighting systems, but dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and industrial fans are all required for healthy plants.
If this electricity can be created using renewable methods like with hydroelectric power or wind/solar farms, then the environmental impact due to increased electricity demand will be limited.
But for provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan who still rely on fossil fuels, an increase in electricity demand will translate directly into more greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.
Outdoor growing has its problems too
Like many agricultural ventures, the surrounding environment can be significantly affected by a large farm. Firstly, the clear cutting needed to establish a growing area requires a huge amount of energy, never mind the act of removing CO2 filtrating trees and plants.
Common farming equipment and chemicals can also take a toll on surrounding wildlife.
It can pollute the lands and waters in the areas where it’s cultivated, as well as poison wildlife through the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and petroleum fuels. – Jennifer Carah, senior freshwater ecologist at The Nature Conservancy in California