Marijuana’s Social and Environmental Mayhem: Can Pot Ever Be Green?
Herb, Grass. Weed. It sounds so green, so harmless. There are people who eat all organic, never touch a plastic bag, and bike everywhere, but who still indulge in one extremely unsustainable activity: buying illegal pot. That occasional toke comes at the cost of shocking violence and environmental degradation on both sides of the border.
NPR quotes a recent State Department report that marijuana production has grown 35% in Mexico last year, with 30,000 acres under production. The vast majority of that crop is exported to the U.S.; in addition, the drug lords grow pot in American national parks and other public land in order to skip any ‘formalities’ at the border. No friendly purveyors, the drug cartels have been ruthless in their pursuit of cash and power. NPR states that approximately 24,000 people have died in drug-related violence Mexico since December 2006. While your local dealer may seem harmless enough, the industry that delivers most recreational pot is as corrupt as a BP board meeting.
Besides the problem of out of control crime, we can also assume that environmental hygiene is not uppermost in the drug cartels’ concerns. Marijuana is grown using pesticides and herbicides that pollute groundwater and kill wildlife; illegal encampments of growers have been blamed for several forest fires in California, besides leaving piles of garbage and human waste when they move on. In 2009 over 4,000 plants were uprooted in California alone, almost all of it illegally grown on public lands that are supposed to be preserved in their natural state, not used for spleef farms. So the occasional bong hit comes at a heavy price for people and land.
A Legalization Lab?
The ever-rational (?) Mick Jagger recently called for a scientific approach to examining the legalization question: legalizing drugs on the tiny Isle of Man (off the coast of England) as a controlled laboratory experiment (though admittedly he did not consult the island’s citizens before making the suggestion.) The rock star asserted that human beings generally have a propensity to take drugs, for whatever reason. “But then what do you do when it affects so many people’s lives, and not in a good way? And then also you get a lot of violence at both ends of the scope,” Jagger said. “That’s the part that speaks to some sort of legalisation. Because that, you would hope, would help the violence from both ends of the supply line.”
Boulder’s Bold Move
Perhaps this is really a question of scope, and the answer lies in the locavore movement: just as eating food grown locally assures quality and lowers the carbon footprint of our meals, should one only consume pot grown close to home? Laying aside the not inconsequential legal consequences, growing pot indoors takes a lot of electricity for high-intensity lights, fans and other equipment. This week the Boulder, Colorado city government passed a law requiring medical marijuana growers to purchase offsets for all of their electricity use, in effect deriving 100% of their energy from wind or solar power. While it’s kind of ironic to go after medical pot businesses before demanding similar concessions from, say, banks or factories, the requirement is an interesting step on the road to making marijuana use more sustainable.
Photo: United States Fish and Wildlife Service