Is cannabis good for the planet?

As Earth Day approaches, the question of whether growing cannabis is good for the planet is somewhat mixed

As Earth Day approaches, everyone is considering what's good for the planet. Plastic, deforestation, fake fur and Temus fast fashion are clearly bad for the planet, but others are more nuanced. Since Morton Hilbert started the movement, it has been time to reflect, reevaluate and hopefully adapt. With marijuana and CBD becoming increasingly popular in recent years, is cannabis good for the planet?

While cannabis has clear medical benefits and is considered recreational, it can be a liability on Earth. There are some advantages. As a fast-growing plant, cannabis can absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it a potentially valuable crop in the fight against climate change.

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The plant's deep roots also help prevent soil erosion, and its flowers attract pollinators such as bees, supporting biodiversity. Additionally, cannabis has been shown to be effective in phytoremediation – it absorbs and stores heavy metals from contaminated soils, which can help remediate contaminated soils. These all relate to outdoor cultivation.

The downside can be environmental risks that need to be managed. Both indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation can be very water intensive, with estimates suggesting up to 6 gallons of water per plant per day is required for cultivation. This water use can deplete local water resources and pollute waterways with fertilizers and pesticides. Although this is lower than for crops such as citrus fruits, grapes (wine), palm fruits and apricots, it still has a significant impact.

Indoor cultivation also has a large energy footprint, as there is a high demand for electricity for lighting, HVAC and other equipment, resulting in significant greenhouse gas emissions. Cannabis cultivation can also contribute to deforestation and soil erosion if not done sustainably, such as by clearing land on steep slopes. And the plants themselves emit volatile organic compounds that can negatively impact local air quality.

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With the right policies and cultivation techniques, cannabis could potentially be grown in an environmentally friendly way that sequesters carbon, supports biodiversity and remediates contaminated soil. But the industry must prioritize sustainability to fully realize the plant's potential as an environmentally friendly crop. Biden's climate-friendly administration can make a difference with legalization. Southern states and other agricultural states with experience in outdoor farming will be helpful. To make cannabis cultivation more sustainable, thoughtful regulation, life cycle assessments and the adoption of precision agriculture technologies will be important.

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