It’s higher than you think: The environmental impact of growing cannabis

Image of cannabis plant
William Ismael/Creative Commons

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Today is 4/20, a holiday sacred to most UC Berkeley students. While you light up on Memorial Glade after classes today, take a minute to celebrate by learning about the effects of cannabis on the environment. Spoiler alert — it’s higher than you think! 

The cannabis industry is projected to be worth a whopping $61 billion. While research about the health benefits of cannabis has progressed, the environmental impact of growing cannabis has yet to gain momentum.

Legalizing cannabis would not only be good for the economy and criminal justice system, but it would also have a positive impact on the environment. The government would be able to regulate how it’s grown, which would protect our local wildlife and ecosystems. Illegal growers of cannabis don’t follow environmental regulations, meaning that they can use banned insecticides to protect their crops. For instance, at one illegal growing site near Mount Shasta in California, ecologists found toxicants that are banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. The issue with these toxicants is that they can harm other animals as they get passed on through food chains. Between 2006 and 2011, the deaths of 79% of dead fishers (small mammals) found in California were linked to these toxic chemicals from grow sites

Another problem is that illegal growing sites have poisoned nearby waterways with chemical runoff and have threatened local fish populations by diverting stream water to water their cannabis plants. A majority of illegal growing sites are on federal or tribal lands, which affects these populations as well. 

However, there are still adverse environmental effects from legal cannabis growing sites. Cannabis plants contribute to creating smog and air pollution, producing more than 2,000 metric tons of ozone per year. The good news is that there are implementable solutions to this problem. For example, cannabis plants grown within indoor growth sites can use a carbon filtration system to remove the toxic organic compounds produced by cannabis plants.

It’s good that more states are #legalizingit because additional regulations can be enforced to protect our ecosystems and humans from harsh, illegal chemicals used on illegal cannabis plants. Hopefully, further research and regulations will prove successful in mitigating the detrimental effects of growing cannabis on the environment. The next time you smoke legally bought weed, pat yourself on the back for helping the environment and making the better choice. You truly are a tree lover!

Contact Özge Terzioğlu at [email protected].