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Energy Policy 46 (2012) 58–67

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Energy Policy

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The carbon footprint of indoor Cannabis production

Evan Mills

Energy Associates, Box 1688, Mendocino, CA 95460, United States

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Received 7 September 2011 Accepted 10 March 2012 Available online 17 April 2012


Energy Buildings Horticulture

1. Introduction

On occasion, previously unrecognized spheres of energy use come to light. Important historical examples include the perva- sive air leakage from ductwork in homes, the bourgeoning energy intensity of computer datacenters, and the electricity ‘‘leaking’’ from billions of small power supplies and other equipment. Intensive periods of investigation, technology R&D, and policy development gradually ensue in the wake of these discoveries. The emergent industry of indoor Cannabis production appears to have joined this list.1

This article presents a model of the modern-day production process – based on public-domain sources – and provides first- order national scoping estimates of the energy use, costs, and greenhouse-gas emissions associated with this activity in the United States. The practice is common in other countries but a global assessment is beyond the scope of this report.

2. Scale of activity

The large-scale industrialized and highly energy-intensive indoor cultivation of Cannabis is a relatively new phenomenon, driven by criminalization, pursuit of security, pest and disease

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1 This article substantively updates and extends the analysis described in Mills (2011).

0301-4215/$ - see front matter & 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


The emergent industry of indoor Cannabis production – legal in some jurisdictions and illicit in others – utilizes highly energy intensive processes to control environmental conditions during cultivation. This article estimates the energy consumption for this practice in the United States at 1% of national electricity use, or $6 billion each year. One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production. The practice of indoor cultivation is driven by criminalization, pursuit of security, pest and disease management, and the desire for greater process control and yields. Energy analysts and policymakers have not previously addressed this use of energy. The unchecked growth of electricity demand in this sector confounds energy forecasts and obscures savings from energy efficiency programs and policies. While criminalization has contributed to the substantial energy intensity, legalization would not change the situation materially without ancillary efforts to manage energy use, provide consumer information via labeling, and other measures. Were product prices to fall as a result of legalization, indoor production using current practices could rapidly become non-viable.

& 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

management, and the desire for greater process control and yields (U.S. Department of Justice, 2011a; World Drug Report, 2009). The practice occurs across the United States (Hudson, 2003; Gettman, 2006). The 415,000 indoor plants eradicated by authorities in 2009 (and 10.3 million including outdoor plantations) (U.S. Department of Justice, 2011a, b) presumably represent only a small fraction of total production.

Cannabis cultivation is today legal in 15 states plus the District of Columbia, although it is not federally sanctioned (Peplow, 2005). It is estimated that 24.8 million Americans are eligible to receive a doctor’s recommendation to purchase or cultivate Cannabis under existing state laws, and approximately 730,000 currently do so (See Change Strategy, 2011). In California alone, 400,000 individuals are currently authorized to cultivate Cannabis for personal medical use, or sale for the same purpose to 2100 dispensaries (Harvey, 2009). Approximately 28.5 million people in the United States are repeat consumers, representing 11% of the population over the age of 12 (U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2011).

Cultivation is also substantial in Canada. An estimated 17,500 ‘‘grow’’ operations in British Columbia (typically located in residen- tial buildings) are equivalent to 1% of all dwelling units Province- wide, with an annual market value of $7 billion (Easton, 2004).

Official estimates of total U.S. Cannabis production varied from 10,000 to 24,000 metric ton per year as of 2001, making it the nation’s largest crop by value at that time (Hudson, 2003; Gettman, 2006). A recent study estimated national production at far higher levels (69,000 metric ton) (HIDTA, 2010). Even at the

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