Cannabis Industry Takes Baby Step Toward Reducing Its Environmental Impact

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Photo: Getty

As great as cannabis can be, the industry’s not without its environmental impacts. And it’s starting to become aware. On Tuesday, the Global Cannabis Partnership announced some of the first global standards to help the industry shrink its carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste.

The Global Cannabis Partnership, which has been around since 2018, is made up of 45 international partners from government agencies to private businesses in the U.S. and Canada. The environmental guidelines are part of a new Responsible Cannabis Framework it expects members to follow, which it released at the World Cannabis Congress in Canada earlier this week.

They come as the ballooning legal cannabis industry faces additional scrutiny for its environmental impact. A 2017 study highlighted the way growing cannabis outdoors could jeopardize California’s northern temperate forests by causing them to become more fragmented. This growth is also threatening the Humboldt marten, a super cute fox-like fluff ball that conservationists are fighting to have protection under the Endangered Species Act. Meanwhile, indoor cannabis operations—which require serious light systems to properly grow the plants—can be energy intensive: A 2012 study found that growing a kilogram of cannabis has the equivalent footprint of about 3 million U.S. cars.

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The Global Cannabis Partnership is instructing its members to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, improve their water management, modernize their packaging material to reduce waste, and better their agricultural practices to protect soil and avoid pests sustainably. The framework also prioritizes improving the role the cannabis industry plays in our greater society by educating consumers on responsible use and supporting more research on the topic.

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However, the framework doesn’t mention any enforcement mechanism, and it’s unclear how likely members are to follow the guidelines without one. The partnership will require that members apply for one of the framework’s certifications in a year, but again, it’s unclear how the partnership plans to do that without any enforcement.

It’s also important to note that these members represent a tiny fraction of the global cannabis industry. While this appears to be one of the first such sets of standards, we’ll have to see how the others in the industry respond to them to know how much of an impact this could actually have.

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But the National Cannabis Industry Association, which represents nearly 2,000 members, is already developing environmental guidelines for its members, said media relations director Morgan Fox to Earther.

“It is important that large international operators are starting to lay out structures to promote environmental responsibility as the global cannabis industry continues to grow,” Fox, told Earther in an email. “This is something that people in the cannabis industry have cared about since the beginning, and I think some were worried that this emphasis would be lost as the industry matured and larger corporate players got involved.”

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With the state of the planet as bad as it is, everyone needs to work toward improving it. The cannabis industry is expected to be worth more than $60 billion by 2025. Its environmental footprint will inevitably grow, too—unless its leaders are proactive about avoiding that.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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