Conservation Minnesota

Marijuana – Minimizing The Environmental Impact Of Legalization

The legalization of marijuana is currently a hot topic all over the United States, and Minnesota is no exception to the rule. Federal politicians are now being asked to weigh in [1] on an issue that previously concerned only individual states. Some states have already legalized cannabis, while others (Minnesota included) have decriminalized it to a certain extent and legalized it for medical usage. Many people are in favor of these measures [2], others are vociferously opposed [3]. Various arguments are brought in on both sides – but there is one less partisan issue which is rarely raised in these debates: that of the environmental impact of legalizing marijuana. If done correctly, there is no reason why the legalization of marijuana should have any negative impact upon the environment. But, if done poorly, the potential ecological implications could be huge. We need, therefore, to assess the environmental hazards which could be associated with legal marijuana, and work out ways in which to minimize these risks in the event of full marijuana legalization within Minnesota.

Legalization

As of 2014, the Minnesota Department of Health is allowed to prescribe and advise the use of ‘medical cannabis’. The first marijuana dispensaries in Minnesota are opening this year [4]. This follows a general trend towards decriminalization of the drug all across the nation. States like Colorado and Washington have already more or less fully legalized marijuana – with alcohol-esque provisos attached. In general, opinion in the scientific and political community on these developments is muted. Many scientists say that they see little harm in recreational marijuana usage, so long as (like with alcohol) it is not taken to excess, and politicians seem to agree that what a person does or does not ingest in the way of cannabis should be entirely up to them (provided that nobody else is harmed in the process). It seems likely, therefore, that the United States will see further legalization and permissiveness when it comes to marijuana in the future. One area of concern which has been raised is the potential for legalization to favor the growth of ‘Big Marijuana’. Enormous marijuana-producing conglomerates could potentially, some claim [5], cause a degree of social damage. They could also spell bad news for the environment.

‘Big Marijuana’

When it comes to the environment, the risks of marijuana relate mainly to its farming. There is likely to be a large demand for legal cannabis should sweeping legalization be brought in, and this demand will naturally attract entrepreneurs who could potentially become unscrupulous with the heady scent of dollars in their nostrils. Given the potential tax revenue that such enterprises could bring in [6], the government may also, sadly, be inclined to turn a blind eye towards environmentally hazardous farming methods. Enormous agri-business and environmentally insensitive farming is currently an issue of major concern for environmental groups the world over [7] – the meteoric unchecked rise of another major cash crop could just spell disaster for a great many delicate habitats. It is for these reasons that environmental provisos need to be placed upon any nascent marijuana legislation now, before the situation has a chance to get out of hand.

Sensitive Marijuana Farming

Nobody is suggesting that marijuana legalization be stopped for environmental reasons – merely that it is brought in in a manner which prevents big marijuana agri-businesses from growing up and harming the environment. The State of California has already discovered that marijuana growing can have a decidedly negative effect on the environment if not properly regulated – farmers have even been discovered clearing precious areas of habitat within national parks and protected forests in their eagerness to make space for their lucrative cannabis crops [8]. Herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides when used in industrial quantities also kill off many native species both directly and indirectly – bobcats are among the threatened species to be felled by the rodenticide used on some Californian marijuana farms. Fertilizers and herbicides may also wash into watercourses, irreparably damaging their ecosystems. Energy usage and irrigation are also areas of concern – marijuana farmed on a large scale would require an awful lot of energy and water, potentially to the detriment of the surrounding environment. None of this, however, need be of concern if regulations are put in place to ensure that marijuana farming is of minimal environmental impact before legalization is brought in. It is perfectly possible to for marijuana to be farmed and sold in an ecological, sustainable manner – we just need to make sure that the need for this is properly established in governmental minds before any legislation is drafted.

[1] Payton Guion, “Obama asked to weigh in on legal marijuana”, Then Independent, May 2015

[2] Ben Nelms, “Majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana – polls”, Reuters, Apr 2015

[3] Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM)

[4] Philip Ross, “Marijuana Legalization In Minnesota: State Readies For Medical Dispensaries Openings With First Harvest”, International Business Times, Mar 2015

[5] Mark Kleiman, “How to Avoid ‘Dumb’ Marijuana Legislation”, Rehabs.com, May 2014

[6] Ariel Nelson, “How Big Is The Marijuana Market?”, CNBC, Apr 2010

[7] Elizabeth Rodriguez, Ryan Sultan, Amy Hilliker, “Negative Effects of Agriculture on Our Environment”, The Traprock, May 2004

[8] Environmental Protection Information Center, “Industrial Cannabis Agriculture”

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