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The Surprising Solution for Growing Sustainable Marijuana

California has years of (illegal) experience in what does and doesn't make for eco-friendly weed.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Artazum and Iriana Shiyan

 
 
 
 

Among the high hills and snaking creeks of northwest California, illicit marijuana growing has been a way of life for decades now, and locals have had a headstart over the rest of the country in considering what a legal system of regulation should look like.

Scott Greacen is an environmentalist whose intimacy with the area's river channels has forced him to bolster his own understanding of marijuana cultivation. The excesses of unregulated marijuana plantations have poisoned and leveled creeks. His vision of the industry is one he calls "highly regulated," with low barriers to entry so that small-time farmers and others interested in the production process can apply to be registered members of the supply chain. Not only would a more level playing field undermine the black market, he told Truthout, but it would produce other benefits as well: "You're going to get a higher quality product and better environmental performance from more small production. It's when you go to high-volume production, you lose quality and you have to use chemical crutches."

He's heard from a lot of people in his area who dread the day when "corporations come and take over [cannabis]," but remains optimistic that a regulated industry can develop into something that doesn't contort to the big business archetype. "Change is coming and overwhelming us, and the challenge is, can we create a system that doesn't just give it away to the corporations? I see a lot of hope for that."

One group in northern California is matching Greacen's hopes with action. The Emerald Grower's Association is a Northern California collective that advances policies for a sustainable cannabis industry. Its chairperson, Kristin Nevedal, explained to Truthout over the phone that her organization stands opposed to the kind of "industrial agricultural" model of marijuana production, and hopes California will eventually implement a regulatory model that allows for an abundance of small-time producers, distributors and retailers who keep the wealth generated from the crop mostly local.

It's a vision inspired by the demonstrated material windfall that befell northwest California between the late 1970s and the mid-2000s, when the regional economy thrived on soaring marijuana prices under national prohibition. The Sacramento Bee reports that in Humboldt County, one of three northern California counties that comprise the fabeled "Emerald Triangle," the pot industry accounts for over a quarter of the county's $1.6 billion economy. 

 "We want cannabis cultivation to return to the agricultural model," Nevedal told Truthout. "Marijuana is the number one cash crop in California, primarily produced by small [and] medium farmers... [and most of them] are responsible for supporting their home region's economy. They put money in fire departments, schools and the economic system by keeping their work and money local."

In addition to advancing communitarian pot laws, the Emerald Grower's Association also lobbies for environmentally conscious growing; namely, by advocating for sun-grown weed. With California’s vast geographic expanse and varied climate, there are plenty of places to grow pot outside—but in the two states where recreational weed legal, growers have been mostly forced indoors by weather and spatial considerations. That usually means cultivating marijuana using the most environmentally damaging means.    

"Diesel dope," the kind nurtured inside factory-sized warehouses swimming in horticultural lamp light, is unbelievably carbon-intensive, and the current annual CO2 emissions volume of all such facilities nationwide is "equal [to] that of 3 million cars," according to a study conducted by Evan Mills of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. The analysis also highlights that "a single [lamp grown] cannabis cigarette... is equal to running a 100-watt light bulb for 25 hours of average US electricity."

 
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