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Green Your Weed

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If you've found yourself in recent months puffing on some weed while arguing with a relative on Facebook about the merits of the Green New Deal, some self-reflection may be in order.

As Earth Day approaches, urging us to think about our environmental impacts, carbon footprints and consumption habits, it's incumbent upon us to bring cannabis into that conversation. After all, there's a growing body of evidence to suggest weed isn't as green as many of us would like to believe and that legalization, at this point, might be making things worse.

We've reported in these pages before on the massive carbon footprint of indoor cannabis cultivation and there's now more data than ever showing that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to grow a gram of weed, what with high-wattage lights running for 12 to 20 hours a day, fans and filtration systems. And that's before the product is even transported to market.

Colorado Public Radio reported last year that data from Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment shows that indoor cannabis cultivation accounts for 4 percent of the city's total electricity use. Similarly, a report from the California Public Utilities Commission noted that in 2012 — six years prior to recreational legalization — indoor medical cannabis cultivation accounted for 3 percent of the state's electricity consumption. According to a report on TheRooster.com, combined, that's enough electricity to power the Las Vegas strip for an entire year. And again, that's before cannabis went fully legal in the Golden State.

Then there's that landmark 2011 study from energy scientist Evan Mills, who found growing cannabis indoors to make the average dab — a popular form of highly concentrated cannabis — uses about the same amount of electricity as it would take to keep a 100-watt light bulb on for almost two hours.

This is why we have repeatedly urged folks to use their purchasing power to support licensed local, sun-grown cannabis, the kind that Humboldt County is famous for. It's the weed equivalent of shade-grown coffee or fair trade chocolate.

Unfortunately, indoor growing is only part of the problem.

California regulations require that cannabis products be sold in child-resistant packaging. Now there's good reason for this to be sure — before such packaging became required of household cleaners and medications in 1970, unintentional poisoning deaths were the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5. (It's now been surpassed by preventable injuries, a category that includes drowning and car crashes, according to www.kidsdata.org.)

But a lot of this packaging is made with opaque plastic, crafted into cylinders, canisters and boxes that hold pre-rolled joints, concentrates and cannabis flowers. Considering most cannabis products are sold in quantities from 0.5 to 7 grams, it's also noteworthy that most customers leave the dispensary with far more plastic than product.

And while some of this stuff is recyclable, anecdotal reports indicate much of it doesn't end up in the bins and some of what does — like pre-roll and concentrate containers — are too small for sorting machines and generally end up in landfills. (It's also worth noting that manufacturing plastics requires a huge amount of oil, making puffing your indoor weed that came in a plastic container somewhat akin to letting your Hummer idle while you spray an aerosol can out the window.)

There are, thankfully, some folks stepping up to the challenges of the day. Some farms and distributors make a point of packaging products as sustainably as possible and they should be supported. In addition to asking your budtender what's local and sun-grown, you can also ask about packaging, compare various products and put some thought into your purchases.

There's also an outfit named CannaCycle that, as the name suggests, is working to keep as much of what is recyclable out of the waste stream. According to its website, CannaCycle accepts glass jars, most pre-roll packaging, concentrate jars, boxes and "any other variations of packaging that holds your medicine." The website states that folks can pick up a CannaCycle drop-off bag at one of its dispensary partners — which include The Heart of Humboldt and the Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Arcata, as well as Proper Wellness and 215 Dispensary in Eureka — fill it with recyclables and drop it back off.

With cannabis fully legal, consumers now have more choice than ever in what products they buy and what companies they support. It's time to use that purchasing power to make the industry as green as it can be.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com.

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