The legalization of Marijuana legalization for either medical or recreational use is a hot-button topic — the federal government still classifies the drug as Schedule 1, putting it in the same category as cocaine and heroin.
That hasn’t stopped many states from legalizing it in its various forms, though. While marijuana has proven health benefits for users, one topic that’s come up less often is whether the trend toward legalization is eco-friendly. What are the impacts of marijuana use and growth on our environment?
More Money for Eco-Friendly Projects
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of things like green energy and recycling programs isn’t public interest or feasibility — it’s funding. For the states that have legalized pot for recreational use, it has quickly become a cash cow.
Legalizing cannabis allows states to tax it, just like they would for alcohol and tobacco. Nevada, which is the most recent state to legalize the drug for recreational use, made $30 million in taxes in just the first six months. States can turn right back around and invest those funds in green energy or other eco-friendly projects — although this doesn’t mean they will choose to. However, the potential is certainly there, which is a positive thing.
Legal Production = Eco-Friendly Farms
In states where growing marijuana is illegal, growers often resort to setting up their production in the middle of otherwise pristine forests, or in dark warehouses, supplemented with grow lights that consume massive amounts of energy.
Legalization allows marijuana farmers to come out into the light — literally, in some cases. Legal marijuana farms will be able to employ eco-friendly farming practices because they won’t need to hide anymore.
One county in Colorado passed a law stating marijuana growers who still use grow lights can only use power generated by solar farms or other green energy sources. Those who can’t use green energy pay into an offset fund to help improve conservation and help to make growing practices eco-friendlier.
Hemp, Hemp and More Hemp
Hemp and marijuana might belong to the same family, but they are not the same plant. Hemp does contain cannabidiol, or CBD, but it contains little to no THC, grows faster and easier than marijuana and has more uses than we can count. Its oil and seeds are edible, and the oil is also an all-natural ingredient in candles, body lotion and other products.
The hemp plant itself can be processed to make paper, plastic and even clothing. It can even produce fuel for bio-diesel vehicles and concrete for construction. It’s also a great rotation crop — the plant grows quickly and detoxifies the soil, and what remains after the harvest breaks down cleanly to add nutrients back into the field.
Hemp has been illegal to grow in the U.S. since 1970, thanks to the Controlled Substances Act, which banned the growth of all forms of cannabis, including hemp. Any hemp products you see in the United States are made from hemp imported from other countries. We’re essentially missing out on one of the most versatile and sustainable crops in the world.
No More Scorched Earth
Law enforcement officers tend to be a little bit overzealous when it comes to the destruction of illegal marijuana crops. They spray the plants and the land that nourished them with harsh herbicides like glyphosate — which, in addition to killing the marijuana plants and scorching the surrounding earth, is also a dangerous endocrine and hormone disruptor.
While we don’t want people to set up illegal farms in places like national parks, treating the land in these areas with harsh chemicals can have lasting effects on the local ecosystem. As we’ve already mentioned, legalizing marijuana means these farms can operate in the open and use land that is already dedicated for agricultural use.
Cannabis might be classified as a weed, but you wouldn’t kill your entire garden and then salt the earth just to get rid of a few weeds. Plus, stopping the use of these chemicals keeps them from being picked up in rainwater runoff and ending up in our rivers and lakes.
The eco-friendliness of marijuana legalization might not seem obvious, but the facts speak for themselves. Legalizing marijuana nationwide won’t just make it available for those who need or want to use it — it will also enable hemp farmers to plant their crops in the United States and enable marijuana growers to use green energy and other eco-friendly farming options. All in all, it sounds like a win for everyone involved.