Could mass cannabis farming be bad for the environment?

Published Oct 23, 2020 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Ulrike Leone

Is it a problem that the cannabis industry is polluting the environment in ways that are more challenging for the climate crisis that the world is facing today? Doctor Silvaggio, an environmental sociologist and active member at the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIMR), believes that industrial cannabis farming is terrible for the environment. Dr. Dominic Corva, Co-director of HIMR, also believes the land is stretched to its limits and that there are techniques for growing marijuana that can leave a smaller carbon footprint. These techniques include companion planting and dry farming.

Companion planting

When certain plants are cultivated together, they can mutually complement and benefit each other. This type of selective pairing is known as companion planting. Planting the correct plants together prevents the need for pesticides, as some plats naturally repel insects and diseases that would eat the companion plant. It's a team effort that works both ways.

Dry Farming according to the experts

Growing marijuana in a dry climate without water or some sort of irrigation system is known as dry farming. Environmentally this is the right choice for farming cannabis, as the precious water reserves are not used up, especially in areas where drought becomes an issue for the marijuana plants. However, Dr. Corva feels that the only way to address the environmental crisis we are looking at is by a total ban on farming cannabis on a large scale.

Experts believe there is an adverse ecological impact with farming cannabis in the U.S. which means that different methods need to be looked at and thought about sooner rather than later. Dr. Corva agrees that a stronger emphasis needs to be made on green policies and that areas with legalization can offer insight. If we are mindful of the destruction that farming cannabis can wreak on the environment, could we limit the amount of environmental damage cannabis farming is doing?

You are not the only one that may have wondered whether or now growing marijuana plants could harm the environment. As mentioned, cannabis farming is not all right for the world as we see it today, but if we work together, we can work globally and make cannabis farming an earth-friendly and sustainable industry. Experts have three major concerns, and these include:

  • Wildlife

  • Pollution

  • Water



Wildlife can be harmed by the illicit cannabis farmer who uses many types and large amounts of toxic chemicals and rodenticides to keep their marijuana plants intact. Some cannabis farmers plant their illegal marijuana plants on public land that is home to endangered animals. The amount of pesticides used for the illicit cannabis farmers crops causes irreparable damage to local wildlife.


Marijuana is becoming more socially acceptable and legal, and as such, it is becoming a plentifully cultivated plant. Colorado has over 600 registered marijuana cultivation facilities. This much cannabis farming takes a lot of energy because most cannabis cultivation is done indoors. U.S. cannabis farming eats up 1% of the total annual electricity use for the country. The number of people who are cannabis farming needs to be monitored, and the cannabis farmer should be told to use eco-friendly lighting.


Marijuana plants, like any living thing, need water. Marijuana is a water-loving plant that can use up to six gallons of liquid every single day. During the prime cannabis growing season, a square mile of marijuana plants will consume almost one billion gallons of water. Suppose the cannabis farmer is cultivating in an area where water is scarce. In that case, it will directly affect aquatic life and have an impact on the amount of fresh water that is available to sustain human life.

Last words

Legal cannabis farming can be detrimental to the environment, but the largest part of the problem is the illicit cannabis farmer. The trespassing grower or illicit cannabis farmer usually takes water from natural streams and rivers, which negatively affects the environment. Could legalization be the answer that could help the environment?

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