Oregon Takes a Hard Look at the Environmental Impacts of Cannabis Production

CROPLike many commercial crops, cannabis cultivation can be water intensive. Increased production in pot-friendly states has been flagged by many as a water and electricity usage issue, especially in light of oft-strained natural resources. For this reason, some of the Western states have begun to regulate cannabis businesses’ water and power usage. In the case of Oregon, environmental impact has been a key consideration for some time.

Last year, the Oregon legislature passed HB 3400, an omnibus bill legalizing recreational marijuana. In that historic law, the legislature called for a task force to assess water and electricity use by cannabis cultivators. The aptly named Cannabis Environmental Best Practices Task Force has been busy, meeting five times between April and August of 2016. Recently, it published its Working Document, which will soon be finalized into a proper report and submitted to the legislature. Oregon hopes these findings will serve as a model to other states with similar concerns.

Those who testified at the Task Force meetings represent a wide range of parties vested in Oregon cannabis, including growers, private sector service providers, and public utilities. Based on their testimony and other research, the Task Force identified best practices for cannabis cultivation, and identified ways stakeholders can encourage responsible cultivation practices for new industry entrants. According to the Task Force, Oregon should follow four distinct priorities to address the environmental impact of cannabis producers:

  1. Support access to education and technical assistance related to cultivation practices;
  2. Support the creation of voluntary third party certification programs;
  3. Encourage research into cannabis issues, including environmental best practices, health, and other aspects of the cannabis sector; and
  4. Investigate water regulations for small-scale producers.

This guidance demonstrates progressive, institutional concern with creating a sustainable medical and recreational cannabis industry. It seems likely that the state will adopt these recommendations. As to the cannabis cultivators themselves, they would be wise to proactively comply with any “best practices” identified by the Task Force and adopted by the legislature. Not only is that the right thing to do, but gaining certification as an environmentally friendly operator may boost the bottom line.

For existing cannabis producers in Oregon, the new guidance does not change the requirement to acquire and maintain required water rights. Nor does it eliminate the need to submit an Electricity and Water Use Estimate form upon license application. Instead, the guidance simply focuses on the manner in which cannabis growers can shrink their collective environmental footprint.

Looking ahead, increased regulation of water usage for cannabis cultivation is inevitable as water-starved states like California vote on recreational pot this year. Oregon’s move – explicitly billed as a model for other states – sets a positive standard for states that will encounter these issues in the coming months and years. It is our hope that these recommendations see wide acceptance and smooth implementation, and lead the conversation on the environmental impacts of cannabis production nationwide.

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