With this weekend’s 4/20 becoming more mainstream and celebrated more than ever before, it’s high time (I know, bad pun) to take a look at the industry to gauge this sector's sustainability. From an editor’s point of view, it’s an interesting task. After all, second to Earth Day stories, cannabis tales have been the most common types of pitches we’ve been receiving here at TriplePundit this week.
And the hype is understandable. Unthinkable just a couple of years ago, cannabis-infused products—especially those with the non-psychoactive ingredient CBD (or cannabidiol)—are now being pushed by brands from personal care products on CVS shelves to a special 420 burger at Carl’s Jr.
So whether the product is a bag of CBD jelly beans or a satvia pre-roll, this industry’s growth brings up a fair question: Is this a sector that can be responsible and sustainable in the long term? After all, one argument for legalizing marijuana a few years ago was the environmental case, as marijuana growers in Golden State were diverting water, using diesel generators and consuming an exorbitant amount of the state’s electricity. And until industrial hemp became legal to grow in the U.S., it was absurd that raw materials for everything from clothing to hand cream to seeds for your yogurt were imported from countries such as Canada.
The challenge for the cannabis industry is more of a cart-before-the-horse question. As the plant was illegal for decades in all states until recently, there is little precedent dictating what makes for sustainable cannabis. How much water is sufficient, what amount of energy is responsible, how can the use of nitrates be limited—the fact remains there is little available information out there.
“There is limited data to support the design of best practices for the industry,” Nick Kovaceich, a business writer who often focuses on the legal cannabis industry, wrote in Forbes earlier this year. “And unlike other valuable agricultural crops, there has been virtually no publicly-funded research on how to produce cannabis most effectively and efficiently, nor which of the various cultivation methods has the smallest carbon footprint.”
Organizations such as the Cannabis Alliance are trying to sort all these details out for growers and manufacturers alike, but this will be a steep hill to climb for the industry.
Then there is the social impact of the legal cannabis industry—a sensitive issue when considering the long history of the U.S. War on Drugs.
“FBI data reveals that 659,700 cannabis-related arrests occurred in 2017, comprising 40 percent of all reported U.S. drug arrests,” attorney Darryl K. Henderson wrote earlier this year for a cannabis industry publication. “Studies show that [people of color] are arrested for cannabis crimes at four times the rate of whites despite the fact that PoC consume cannabis at roughly the same percentage rate as whites.”
One survey from 2017, however, suggested the legal cannabis industry is one dominated by white males at a rate of 81 percent.
Nevertheless, evidence now suggests that since the 2018 Farm Bill has given the green light to CBD and hemp, the industry will rapidly grow and therefore could open more doors. Forbes, for example, recently profiled nine women who are having an impact on what could soon be a $17 billion industry. And in another pun on the sector’s potential, David Moye on HuffPost wrote, “Last year, baby boomers were seen as the future of sales, but industry experts now see women as the next budding market.”
Finally, don’t be surprised if education has a role in shaping the cannabis sector’s environmental and social impact. One career college in Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador is launching a greenhouse design and production program specifically targeted for the cannabis industry. Just as enology and viticulture programs helped groom the U.S. wine sector, so too could scientia cannabis do the same for cannabis here in North America—and beyond.
Image credit: Rick Proctor/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.