Is your cannabis habit contributing to the Climate Crisis?

Grace Robinson  2 min read

In our second COP26 blog, we explore the climate impact of habitual drug consumption. You can find the first post in our COP26 series on LinkedIN or our website.

Dame Carol Black’s recent Review of Drugs identified young, middle-class, white males as a key demographic partaking in habitual drug use in the UK. Like many young people, they are likely to consider themselves climate-conscious or may even partake in climate activism. However, research shows that taking, producing, and selling drugs is not a carbon-netural or net-zero endeavour. In fact, quite the opposite may be true.

Cannabis: A Case Study

Industrial cannabis growth requires vast amounts of light and water. In fact, the plant requires twice as much water as tomatoes in order to grow. Artificial lighting is a notorious energy glutton. Studies in the US have found that cannabis production accounts for 1% of all the country’s energy consumption. That’s over 15 million metric tonnes of CO2. One study by Colorado State University found that indoor cannabis production resulted in the emission of up to 5,184 kilograms of C02 for every kilogram of dried flower.

The biggest issue facing drug reform groups who also wish to see a more sustainable environmental future, is that even legal cannabis production results in considerable emissions. Carbon off-setting, crucially, still requires the production of carbon (which is, in turn, ‘off-set’).

Is it all doom and gloom?

No, not necessarily.

Plant-based materials are increasingly being explored as potential alternatives to fossil fuel-reliant materials. Hemp-lime, for example, can act as a “carbon store” by absorbing carbon dioxide as it grows. Hemp-lime-framed buildings have low carbon footprints, and could be a positive way forward in the battle to tackle the Climate Crisis.

But what about weed?

As we know from the situation in the Netherlands, legalisation does not effectively tackle drug trafficking or gangs. In fact, sometimes it can provide a “legitimate” basis for criminal exploitation. Similarly, legalisation of cannabis will not immediately have enviornmental benefits.

With regards making cannabis consumption less environmentally taxing, the answer lies not just in legalisation but in producing an effective framework which allows for sustainable and ethical production.