Blog  /  August 2017  /  Industry Introspective: Marijuana and the Water Sector

Blog Post Teaser

This blog series examines the impact that specific industries or segments of industries have on the water supply in the US.  The first post in the series focuses on the marijuana industry and explores general growth of the market, water usage and cultivation practices, and related environmental effects and sustainability efforts.


Blazin’ a New Trail

In the US, the legal marijuana market continues to expand as additional states legalize its use for medicinal and/or recreational purposes.

  • By some estimates, the US legal marijuana market generated approximately $7.2 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 17 percent.  Going forward, medical marijuana sales are projected to increase from $4.7 billion in 2016 to $13.3 billion in 2020, while adult recreational sales are anticipated to rise from $2.6 billion in 2016 to $11.2 billion in 2020. 
  • Additionally, it has been posited that between 100,000 and 150,000 are employed in cannabis-related operations, including wholesale cultivators, testing laboratories, infused product manufacturers, medical/recreational dispensaries, and ancillary services focused primarily on marijuana.  This number is comparable to the amount of people employed as web developers across the nation, and the potential for additional job growth is above average as the industry is still in its initial stages.
  • 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, while 8 states have and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use.  According to some reports, it is projected that all 50 states will have legalized marijuana for one or both purposes by 2021.


Growing Like a Weed  

During 2016 and 2017, multiple companies throughout the US embarked on development projects aimed at expanding their marijuana cultivation and processing operations.  

  • In June 2016, G FarmaLabs announced plans to build a 102,000-square-foot marijuana growing complex in Desert Hot Springs, California.  The site, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017, will house three permanent greenhouses and an operations and processing facility.  Construction plans also include an interim cultivation facility that will encompass up to 80,000 square feet of space to be used by the company while the greenhouses and processing facility are being built.
  • In February 2017, Bright Green Group of Companies revealed plans to construct a $160 million greenhouse and research facility for marijuana and other medicinal plants in New Mexico.  Once constructed, the site will cover nearly six million square feet of space and have the capacity to house up to 40 million medicinal plants, of which marijuana is projected to represent a significant quantity.   Construction will occur in four phases, with the first phase expected to be completed in September 2017.
  • In March 2017, AmeriCann began construction on a marijuana growing facility in Freetown, Massachusetts.  Upon completion, which is projected to occur in October 2017, the site will occupy one million square feet of space and include energy-efficient greenhouses, a 130,000-square-foot cultivation and processing facility, a 30,000-square-foot research and development facility, a testing laboratory, and corporate offices.


Straining (and Draining) the Water Sector

Marijuana is a very thirsty plant.  But how much water does cannabis really use?


High Consequences

As legislation changes, environmental safeguards have been slow to keep up.  How much do we really know about the marijuana industry’s impact on the environment?

  • Outdoor marijuana cultivation practices deplete reserved water supplies; distribute pesticides, fertilizer, and other contaminants into soil and local rivers and streams; and degrade the land as forests are cleared to gain additional growing space.  
  • These actions, which can be particularly detrimental in areas prone to drought conditions, accelerate erosion of the surrounding terrain and threaten the health of native vegetation, wildlife, and aquatic species.
  • In addition to using the same considerable amount of water as outdoor farms, indoor growing facilities use more energy than a data center, per square foot, to regulate humidity and create optimal lighting conditions.


Cultivating “Green”er Weed

As the budding marijuana industry awakens sustainability concerns related to water use and other environmental impacts, policymakers and growers are responding in a number of ways.

  • In August 2017, the California State Water Resources Control Board released a draft of water regulations for marijuana cultivation aimed at protecting the state’s water resources by limiting environmental damage caused by growing sites.  The Board’s proposed guidelines regulate water and waste discharge from agricultural practices, land clearing, and grading activities in rural areas and forests; and address the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other chemicals.  The regulations apply to personal grows and both recreational and medical commercial grows, and could be approved by the end of 2017.
  • GrowX, an agricultural technology company, is developing high-efficiency, aeroponic farming systems that can be used to cultivate a range of leafy greens, including marijuana, in a controlled indoor environment.  These systems do not require the use of soil or hydroponic solutions, and can serve as an alternative to conventional growing procedures that strain water supplies. Specifically, GrowX’s aeroponic-based systems require 40% less water than indoor hydroponic systems and 95% less water than traditional outdoor agricultural practices. 
  • Green Life Productions, a Nevada-based organic medical cannabis cultivator, employs traditional permaculture methods that eliminate the need for pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals.  Additionally, the company utilizes LED lights designed to reduce energy use in indoor growing operations by up to 70 percent.   The energy-saving lights, which were developed in collaboration with Illumitex, produce light in specific red and blue wavelengths to promote optimal growing conditions.