Cannabis and Climate

The carbon footprint and energy use of indoor cultivation
Cannabis Policy Brief Nr. 2
October 2022

cpb2Environmental impacts are rarely taken into account in the cannabis regulation debate. The assumption is that legal regulation would automatically reduce the negative environmental consequences of the unregulated illegal market, because authorities would compel the industry to comply with basic environmental standards. Practices in North America and the direction of the emerging regulation debate in Germany and other European countries, however, reveal a disturbing trend towards indoor cannabis cultivation. The high carbon footprint of indoor grow facilities could jeopardize policy aims to reduce energy use and to meet climate goals.

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Key Points
  • Environmental impacts need to be taken into account in the cannabis regulation debate, because the high carbon footprint of indoor grow facilities could jeopardize policy aims to meet climate goals
  • The carbon footprint of producing 1 kilogram (kg) of cannabis indoors ranges from 2,300 to 5,200 kg CO2, equivalent to burning 900 to 2,000 litres of gasoline
  • The energy used for lighting and environmental controls for indoor cultivation operations can require up to 5,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per kg of dried flower
  • For Germany, indoor production of the total estimated amount of 400 metric tons (mt) per year for the recreational market, compares to the total household electricity use of Cologne (Köln), the fourth largest German city with over 1.1 million inhabitants
  • The idea that quality and safety standards can only be met by moving cultivation indoors is a myth that pushes legal cannabis markets in the direction of becoming one of the most carbon-intensive industries
  • Evidence from practice shows that basic standards can be adequately met in outdoor cultivation, following Good Agricultural and Collecting Practice (GACP) guidelines
  • Where domestic climate conditions make outdoor growing more difficult, the best choice would be to allow imports from places with better conditions instead of moving cultivation indoors
  • A regulation model that only allows domestic indoor cultivation will increase the carbon footprint and energy use, including in comparison with the current illicit market
  • Imports from traditional producing countries would also create legal livelihood opportunities for small farmers currently depending on illicit cultivation
  • Given the global climate and energy crisis, there is a compelling case to encourage sustainable outdoor cultivation and to enable certified imports from traditional Southern producers