Smrita Choubey left her corporate job to follow in the footsteps of her family in India by bringing together farming and traditional healing. So, she jumped into New Jersey’s budding cannabis industry.
But, she didn’t want to be one of the big indoor growers who “use as much electricity as a whole town.” She wanted to grow her weed outside on a Warren County farm, using the sun and rain.
That was five years ago.
Choubey has been held up fighting for local and state permits to grow cannabis outdoors — a method of weed production that farmers and researchers say creates less environmental pollution and uses significantly less energy.
One year into the legal cannabis industry, there are still no outdoor cannabis farms in New Jersey. In an industry where barriers to entry are already notoriously high, Choubey said there are few people willing to spend the time and money to try to get permission to cultivate outdoors, despite its sustainability and benefits to the environment.
“We’re the only ones — because it’s so hard,” Choubey said.
For a product long associated with the social and environmental justice movement, cannabis actually creates a lot of environmental pollution, experts say. Studies have found the production and distribution of cannabis requires a substantial amount of energy, emits greenhouse gases and generates significant waste with plastic product packaging.
“Cannabis is really meant to be grown outdoors, to be the most sustainable,” said Robert Mejia, adjunct professor of cannabis studies at Stockton University.
There are places where cannabis grows wild — Northern California, Mexico, Jamaica, Panama — and that’s really where the plant is meant to grow outdoors, Mejia said.
“So, what happens in a lot of the different states that have similar weather to New Jersey, is that we grow it indoors, and as soon as you bring it indoors, you’re bringing in a lot of issues with sustainability,” Mejia said.
Indoor cannabis cultivation is energy-consuming, mainly due to heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and lighting needed to grow the plant indoors. A typical industrial grow facility can be the size of several football fields and have thousands of plants at various stages of growth in a warehouse-like building lined with fans, bright lights and irrigation equipment.
The average industrial facility is also likely to pump in thousands of gallons of water a day. All of the energy consumption leaves a sizable carbon footprint, researchers say.
Continue reading at NJSR Hub.