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Environmental Impacts and Opportunities for the Cannabis Industry

April 2019

(Washington, D.C.)—The cannabis industry is lighting up, but at what cost? The social and health implications of cannabis have been hotly debated, but the environmental impacts and opportunities offered by the rapidly expanding cannabis industry have received far less attention, despite calls to add the environment to the conversation on marijuana liberalization.

In recognition of the numerous sustainability challenges linked to cannabis cultivation, the Environmental Law Institute’s Innovation Lab teamed up with pesticide law and cannabis law experts to create multiple educational brochures demystifying the confusing regulatory landscape of pesticide use on cannabis: 

These resources, developed in cooperation with the International Cannabis Bar Association, will be distributed at the 2d Annual National Cannabis Policy Summit this Friday in Washington, D.C.

And while the industry does have its challenges, significant opportunities for technological and environmental regulatory breakthroughs exist. “If one is looking for a testbed for experiments in sustainable production, extended producer responsibility, the circular economy, industrial symbiosis, or any of the other post-modern environmental paradigms, the emerging cannabis sector is a leading contender,” explains Dave Rejeski, Director of ELI’s Technology, Innovation, and the Environment Program

For example, traditional cannabis cultivation comes with numerous environmental impacts on air, water, waste, and more. But what if you didn’t need the cannabis plant to produce the THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids needed to create novel medicinal and consumer products? In the latest episode of ELI’s People Places Planet Podcast, “Environmental Disruptors: Brewing Cannabis with Beer Yeast”, Dave Rejeski talks with Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley professor and synthetic biologist, about his game-changing innovation to advance environmental protection in cannabis cultivation. Keasling and his team engineered yeast—yes, the same yeast used to brew beer—to produce high-quality, low-cost THC and CBD with potentially much lower environmental impact.

Craving more? Be sure to check out these other podcast episodes on the cannabis industry:

  • Environmental Disruptors: Breaking the Grass Ceiling
  • Environmental Disruptors: Weed Like a Sustainable Cannabis Industry

ELI continues to work in this area. Visit https://www.eli.org/innovation-lab to learn more and for updates.

ELI’s Dave Rejeski is available for interview.