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Opinion

Marijuana legalization can be win for environmental movement

By Kelly Coulter      

Indoor cultivation methods are a byproduct of the illegality of marijuana. Once legal in Canada, it is likely the preferred growing method will be outdoor/sun-grown, which is less-energy intensive.

People smoking marijuana on Parliament Hill on April 20, 2014. Regulation related to the legalization of marijuana, if done right, could be beneficial to the environment, writes Kelly Coulter. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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VICTORIA—Last week was a good week for cannabis and climate.

The release of task force recommendations held true to its promise of a “few surprises.” The report was met with extremely positive reviews from all stakeholders with the hopes of some possible tweaking before a bill is presented in the spring of 2017, as promised.

And as Canada moves towards a legal and regulated cannabis market, the possibilities for genuine leadership on the environment is within our grasp and this is not only visionary but potentially revolutionary on a global level.

The environment is not the first thing you think about when it comes to cannabis, but it should be close to the top. The imminent legalization of cannabis and the regulations that will dictate how this plant will be cultivated could have potentially negative and far-reaching environmental impacts. Colorado has already reached its’ energy quota which was projected for 2020 and the state is now rethinking its’ indoor warehousing of cannabis cultivations.

American scholar Evan Mills wrote recently that “the industry was racking up a whopping energy bill of $6-billion each year across the country back in 2011 (there has been no subsequent update). That’s twice the energy bill of all domestic pharmaceutical production. One joint creates 10 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution. That’s as much as driving a Prius 22 miles or running a 100-watt light bulb for 75 hours.”

This is significant for the Canadian market, and even more so from a global perspective.

Canada is in a unique position of having learned from the mistakes of other jurisdictions and could easily seek more environmentally responsible methods with incentives for greenhouses, green technology, organic, and even seasonal crop farming. This is forward thinking and futuristic sounding but will not seem so in a few short years as the world adjusts to the trajectory we are on.

The indoor cultivation methods that are now considered the norm are in fact a byproduct of the illegality of the plant. Once Canada implements appropriate licensing criteria for the future cannabis farmers of Canada, it is likely the preferred growing method will be outdoor/sun-grown. There are a number of reasons for this, including lower overhead, more competitive pricing options, consumer demand, and a strong desire on the part of the cannabis cultivator to work in stewardship with the land. There is evidence of this in northern California, where medical providers have created a notable niche for their organic, sustainably cultivated cannabis.

Although it is ultimately the consumer who will decide what the predominant landscape of cannabis farms will look like, it is incumbent on politicians and policy-makers to enable a competitive edge for those with best practices to gain a foothold on the future.

There are considerable lessons from the industrialization of the food industry with regards to the necessity to incentivize and support small agricultural ventures. Poor policy and the absence of such support has led to considerable hardship and loss of the family farm in alarming numbers across North America.

The recommendations of the task force to encourage “entry of the smaller craft producers” is a win not only for middle-class Canadians, it is a win for their communities. We have seen this in the craft beer industry as the market continues to grow at a quicker pace then the larger outfits. This has enriched many communities and created a vibrant landscape for entrepreneurial leadership across Canada.

The cannabis industry is primed to meet the challenge of assisting the federal, provincial, and municipal authorities to help craft the incentives that would help to create sustainable cultivation practices.

Brittny Anderson, operations director for the Cannabis Conservancy, suggests that “by requiring or incentivizing the sustainable cultivation of cannabisnatural resources such as energy and water are conserved, pollution is mitigated, and the use of toxic inputs are eliminated. This leads to financial savings for the cultivator, a cleaner product for the consumer, and a healthier environment for the community—a triple win.”

Jonathan Page of Anandia Labs is hopeful. “The task force report puts a strong emphasis on reducing the environmental impact of cannabis production and even recommends outdoor growing. The fact that federal legislation for legalization will be introduced at the same time that the Trudeau government is implementing the Paris climate agreement means that this issue won’t be ignored in Ottawa; 2017 is the year that climate and cannabis converge”.

The possibilities for a thriving and truly green new economy is closer now thanks to the vision of the task force. These are exciting times for cannabis and climate. Let’s get it right.

Kelly Coulter is co-chair for Women Grow-Vancouver Island and formerly of NORML Women’s Alliance of Canada/Ottawa. She has advised politicians, industry leaders, advocates, and women who work in the cannabis industry. She works in Ottawa and Victoria. 

The Hill Times

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