How Federal Prohibition Is Turning Cannabis into a Climate Villain

Tim Dickinson April 20, 2021 RS

Traveling north from San Francisco, the rolling vineyards of wine country soon give way to stands of redwoods and the famed cannabis lands known as the Emerald Triangle, where the local microclimate gives rise to some of the world’s most storied weed. But while you can pick up a bottle of Sonoma County zinfandel or Napa Valley chardonnay at any wine shop in the country, you won’t find famed pot varietals like Humbolt Kush or Mendocino Purps in dispensaries outside the Golden State. In fact, federal law classifies interstate commerce in cannabis — even among pot-legal jurisdictions — as drug trafficking, a serious felony.

America’s state-led march to legalization — recreational weed is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia — has created a cannabis archipelago, where consumers can only partake of marijuana produced locally. For much of the country, that means pot must be grown indoors, in warehouses, with artificial grow lights and supercharged HVAC systems. As groundbreaking new research published in the journal Nature Sustainability demonstrates, this indoor cultivation comes at an alarming climate cost, turning what could be a green enterprise into yet another dirty business — with a carbon output that rivals major extractive industries.


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