At its core, the U.S. cannabis industry is a resurgence of our country’s agriculture and manufacturing capabilities. From planting the cannabis seeds and harvesting the flower, to processing distillates and selling the finished product, this rapidly expanding industry relies on natural resources and stringent packaging requirements to even make it into the hands of a consumer. And like any other agricultural or retail business, it also creates waste that end up in landfills and produces harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
However, little data on the ecological impacts of legal cannabis exists since the federal government classifies it as a controlled substance and the Environmental Protection Agency has no obligation to monitor it. And in the absence of national standards or regulations which address sustainability for the cannabis industry, state regulators are just starting to develop new resources and requirements with sustainability in mind. For these reasons, it’s key for this rapidly expanding industry to examine their natural resource inputs and outputs to establish best practices for sustainable cannabis growth.
Consider the basis of cannabis cultivation. For every pound of flower that is harvested, up to four pounds of THC-less stalk is left and must be to be disposed of in a specific way dictated by state law. In Colorado, their Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) requires cannabis business licensees waste to be mixed equally with non-cannabis waste. However, Colorado is currently revising this waste mixing rule for 2021 as part of their statewide cannabis sustainability goals.