Nick Rosen | |
Pot grown off-grid

The latest anti-cannabis propaganda says that marijuana-growing has a huge carbon footprint. The report quotes a bewildering range of hypothetical figures about the amount of fossil fuel energy used to grow a single marijuana plant.

The freakonomics web site was totally taken in by this fantasy, and talks about the $5 Billion Carbon Footprint of Indoor marijuana growing.

Its nonsense.

Energy used for growing cannabis “corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households,” says the breathless (and completely mistaken) freakonomics report. “The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution …from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars.”

Er, wrong.

The researcher behind the latest flurry of headlines obviously had not read off-grid’s article about the way the marijuana industry assisted the development of the solar panel industry. Evan Mills, Ph.D., is a long-time energy analyst and a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California. But he is clearly not an expert on empirical observation. If he had done his homework he would have known that pot-growers rely heavily on solar and wind power for their energy.
Needing a reliable source of power in the early 80s, the pot-growers of Northern California formed the first major market for solar power. The panels were made by Arco, an oil company that diversified. A former Arco executive told last year he was fully aware of the source of the phenomenal sales growth the company experienced. And he used those sales to convince Arco bosses to invest more in solar panel production.
The article we ran last year detailed the exact way in which solar pioneers like Dave Katz sold pot-growers early-model solar panels to grow their marijuana more efficiently while remaining up in the hills.
“Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value,” the report continues. Now that might actually be true, but only by accident. If the wholesale value of cannabis is about $600 per lb, then it is possible that 25% of the value is taken up in energy AND transport costs, but that equates to only 3% of retail value. The rest of the margin is taken up in the succession of middlemen that operate the cannabis pyramid – plus the cost of money-laundering.

The explanation for this farrago of ill-informed speculation lies in the methodology used: “What information sources were used for this work?” says the FAQ:
“Data and assumptions for building the energy-demand model were drawn from the open literature and interviews with horticultural equipment retailers. A detailed list of sources and technical assumptions are provided at the end of the report and in the notes to the data tables,” runs the answer.

But not once does the report mention solar or wind power.

One commenter on the freakonmics story on their web site gets it right:

“Let me see if I understand ….(a) For growing Marihuana you need electricity, (b) for producing electricity you need fossils (carbon, oil), (c) electricity produced by fossils pollutes. Hence growing marihuana pollutes. Problem that wouldn’t exist if electricity wasn’t produce with fossils, hence the real responsible for the CO2 emissions are not the people who grows marihuana indoors but of the policy makers who haven’t decided yet for producing “green energy”. Right?
On the other hand if growing it became legal, there could be some type of regulation, maybe growers would be enforce to use LEDs instead of metal halide or maybe sun energy could be use as a form of “sustainable marihuana growing” who knows, but using this study to blame marihuana growers for being responsible of high CO2 emissions and, in the process, blaming pot, seems ridiculous.”

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