Going Green? Massachusetts Agency Urges More Environmental Rules For Pot

Photo Credit: Andrew Selsky

Massachusetts officials urged the state’s marijuana agency Friday to impose specific environmental standards on cannabis manufacturers and farms, which can suck up gargantuan amounts of energy to keep their products growing and green.

“Experience from other states has shown that the energy usage of marijuana establishments, especially large-scale, indoor facilities engaged in cultivation, is extraordinarily high,” a lawyer for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs wrote to the Cannabis Control Commission.

“This raises concerns about the carbon footprint of this new industry and the corresponding negative effects this will produce on the Commonwealth’s ability to meet its Global Warming Solution Act goals,” lawyer Tori T. Kim wrote, referring to a state law focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kim, the agency’s general counsel, said it is concerned that the commission’s draft regulations do not specify the energy efficiency and environmental standards that would be required for, say, a pot grower to get a license.

For example, she wrote, the main energy driver in cultivation is high-intensity lighting, which might use inefficient technology.

“Setting energy standards that encourage the use of LED lighting will reduce the need for cooling and significantly reduce energy use by cultivators,” she wrote in a letter dated Friday.

A spokeswoman for the cannabis commission confirmed the independent agency had received the letter, but she did not have any additional comment Friday afternoon.

These comments come as the cannabis commission is holding a public comment period before it finalizes regulations March 15. Pot shops are scheduled to open in July.

Sam Milton, an energy policy consultant based in Arlington who works with several cannabis-related businesses, praised the letter.

“I think their recommendations are spot on,” he said. “I was impressed with EEA’s approach to regulations. They are looking at ways that this industry can have an impact on the goals of the state in terms of energy efficiency and carbon reduction.”

Milton said he liked the push for specificity.

But Senator James B. Eldridge, a longtime proponent of legalization and a leader on a legislative committee focused on climate change, saw a more pernicious undercurrent.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen the Baker administration prioritize energy efficiency concerns on any job-creating industry,” the Acton Democrat said. “Respectfully, I think it’s an example of Governor [Charlie] Baker’s continued opposition to the legalization of marijuana, using the cover of concerns about energy and the environment to create yet another obstacle to marijuana being grown on farms and generally creating jobs.”

Baker, a Republican, campaigned against the marijuana legalization ballot question in 2016. But he has said repeatedly that he accepts the will of the voters.

Earlier this week, his budget office warned the cannabis commission, which is an independent state agency, that it had reached beyond its core legal mandate by proposing the licensure of businesses like sit-and-get-high cafés and pot delivery services not tied to dispensaries.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey echoed those concerns in a letter to the cannabis commission sent Friday on behalf of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, of which Morrissey is president.

“While we are in the early stages of developing a new marijuana industry for the Commonwealth,” the prosecutor wrote, “it is best to authorize and regulate only that which the statute permits plainly and clearly.”

In 2016, 1,769,328 Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana for adult recreational use. The Democratic-controlled Legislature delayed the implementation of that law and then rewrote it.

Massachusetts is one of nine states that have legalized pot, a drug that remains forbidden under federal law.