In October this year, Canada became the second country in the world to fully legalize the use of recreational marijuana. Last year, approximately 4.9 million Canadians consumed nearly $6 billion worth of both medical and recreational cannabis. It’s safe to assume those statistics will continue to rise in the future.
But, there are bound to be complications. For the cannabis industry, those issues directly involve the environment and finding solutions on how to minimize the crop’s carbon footprint.
For one, cannabis plants require a significant amount of water. A single mature weed plant can consume almost 23 litres a water per day, compared to 13 litres for a wine grape plant. Then, there are issues surrounding artificial indoor operations, which are ideal for growing cannabis year-round in most parts of Canada due to the country’s long winters.
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Anthony Wile, co-founder and former CEO of medicinal cannabis oil extract company PharmaCielo, explains that the indoor cultivation of cannabis requires vast amounts of electricity.
“This is understandable when you think about everything that’s required: high-intensity bulbs, ventilation, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and so on,” Anthony Wile says.
Other experts agree – cultivating the crop indoors is negatively impacting the environment.
“One misperception that folks have is that growing cannabis indoors means they get off without a hitch in regards to the environment,” ecologist Jennifer Carah, said. “That’s not really the case.”
Jonathan Page serves as a botany professor at UBC and is calling on the Canadian government to bring in new regulations to look at cannabis’s environmental impact. One of his key suggestions for the government is to encourage outdoor growing to reduce energy and water use.
“It’s an opportunity to get it right, to encourage some of the better practices that would reduce the carbon footprint,” he says.
For PharmaCielo, Wile noted that the Toronto-based company chose to grow its product in Colombia due to the outstanding growing conditions in the country. The Colombian climate fosters open-air greenhouse propagation.
“This means they can grow cannabis as it’s meant to be grown, without any additives or simulated conditions, using only real rainwater and sunlight. And it’s even more environmentally friendly because the plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. With strong sunlight, fertile soil and an even 12-hour day and night cycle, I believe Colombia is the best place in the world to grow cannabis,” explains Wile.
It’s more feasible to grow outdoors for the entire year. That means that growers don’t have to use electricity for bulbs—instead relying on the sun—and substantially eliminating the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.
This also happens to help the grower’s bottom line.
While Canadian regulations ban all imports for the recreational side of the market, it does not reign true for its medical use. For those patients who want cannabis extracts, offshore production will help shape the world’s market, and in turn, help reduce the environmental footprint of Canada’s cannabis industry.