Opinions and Legal Insights

Not So Green: Combatting the Marijuana Industry’s Carbon Footprint

This article is authored by HLG’s Managing Attorney Garrett Graff, with contributions from Haley Keefer, Law Clerk, and Jesse Cherkoss, legal extern

The marijuana industry is not as green as many purport the industry to be. Although the marijuana industry generates thousands of jobs and millions in taxable revenue each year, the industry has not prioritized the unique sustainability challenges that it faces. The growing marijuana industry is subject to stringent packaging, which often requires marijuana and marijuana products to be packaged in plastic, child-proof containers. Waste disposal requirements also impose additional regulatory requirements when disposing of marijuana, including mixing disposed marijuana with other substances to make the waste unrecognizable. Resultantly, the complete marijuana supply chain is a source of pollution as it imposes unnecessary disposal requirements, emits detrimental gases, and often relies on unrecyclable materials.

Marijuana Industries Ecological Impact

Notably, our data concerning the industry’s ecological impact is limited since the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) does not monitor marijuana because it is a controlled substance. Without federal oversight, the industry and state regulators are left at the forefront to develop a sustainable industry. In the meantime, consumers are faced with few options to reduce their carbon footprint when purchasing marijuana and marijuana products and have no option to recycle product packaging due to residual marijuana. To fully effectuate change, state marijuana programs and state legislators must prioritize sustainability.

Marijuana Cultivation and Plant Waste

The cultivation of marijuana produces far more plant waste than the finished product. For example, in Colorado, the Marijuana Enforcement Division (“MED”)  imposed a standing 50-50 waste disposal requirement that requires producers to mix discarded marijuana with substances to discourage people from diverting the discarded marijuana to the black market by making any marijuana waste unrecognizable and unusable. To do so, licenses must mix marijuana waste with non-marijuana waste, such as sawdust or sand. Unfortunately, this practice increases the amount of waste and introduces other pollutants to the environment. Marijuana licensees cannot compost marijuana waste because licensees cannot dispose of marijuana waste without mixing the marijuana material with non-marijuana waste, which is typically more time consuming and expensive than composting services charge by weight. In 2019, it was estimated that 7,300 tons of  Colorado marijuana waste was disposed of, half of which resulted from the 50-50 rule.

Colorado Marijuana Industry Committed to Reducing Carbon Footprint

In a progressive move, the Colorado MED acknowledged its commitment to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. Though the 50-50 requirement is not yet removed, the MED has opened several new avenues for biomass recycling and composting. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“CDPHE”) announced that the adapted waste removal rules will take effect in 2021. Recently, some states, including Colorado, have begun to enact voluntary take-back programs for marijuana packaging, such as flower containers and vape cartridges. The new take-back programs will allow consumers and licensees to greatly reduce their carbon footprint by sterilizing, re-labeling, and re-selling containers.

Marijuana Packaging Materials

Numerous jurisdictions are also calling for increased availability of packaging materials other than plastics. Individually wrapped product requirements and unrecyclable exit-bag materials are all concerns that the industry is beginning to address. Faced with onerous obstacles to recycling, some producers have begun to employ anaerobic digestion to maximize the use of waste. Anaerobic digestion is a process by which organic matter is broken down in the absence of oxygen-producing gases like methane. This methane is used to produce CO2, fuel, and other helpful byproducts for processing.

Consumers, licensees, and regulators must work together to champion the success of these nascent sustainability efforts. Importantly, technology, marijuana-specific, and legislative innovation will guide our efforts to reduce the industry’s ecological impact. As the industry strives to create a sustainable industry for all, we encourage you to contact the Hoban Law Group to determine how you can reduce your carbon footprint. Contact our office to schedule a consultation to discuss your unique needs and to assist you in navigating the complex and fluctuating marijuana waste removal requirements in your jurisdiction.

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