Sierra Club Gives Tips On Using Marijuana In An Environmentally Friendly Way


A leading environmental conservationist group wants to help you sustainably and safely consume marijuana.

The Sierra Club, which has not historically weighed in on cannabis issues, released a guide last week that makes a series of recommendations about how to source marijuana in a way that’s healthy and good for the environment.

They said that, absent regulations from federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture, consumers are left in the dark when it comes to best practices. And the 129-year-old environmental nonprofit is here to help.

“The majority of Americans now live in states where they can legally consume medicinal or recreational cannabis,” the new guide published this month in the Sierra Club’s print magazine says. “As more ways to lawfully partake become available, the choices can be confusing.”

The article lists five tips for marijuana enthusiasts during a time when more and more state-legal markets are coming online.

Buy organic—or “organic-ish.” Because marijuana remains federally illegal, there isn’t an opportunity for cannabis companies to obtain a standard organic certification. But consumers should look for a Clean Green or Sun+Earth label, as these third-party organizations also maintain strong standards and help businesses gain formal certification.

Buy outdoor-grown marijuana. The carbon footprint for indoor-cultivated cannabis can be significant, as the process relies heavily on electronic lighting. That’s not the case for outdoor-grown flower. Sierra Club said “the production of one kilogram of indoor-grown cannabis results in 4,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of driving the United States from coast to coast 11 times.”

Familiarize yourself with the marijuana producer. The illicit market doesn’t disappear when a state launches a legal cannabis market. And because illicit sellers are unregulated, they may be using harmful pesticides, or cultivating their products on public lands in ways that can hurt surrounding wildlife. That said, a 2019 study did find that illegal cultivation in national forests declined post-legalization in Oregon and Washington State.

The guide also notes that certain states encourage cannabis companies to enroll in energy-saving programs. Colorado has taken it a step further, with the governor announcing last year that the state was rolling out pilot programs to promote sustainability cooperation between the cannabis and alcohol markets by using carbon dioxide from the brewing process to stimulate marijuana plant growth.

Look for a Certificate of Analysis. That’s easier said than done in states where marijuana remains prohibited, but for consumers in legal states, it’s an important component, as it means the products have been tested for heavy metals, mold and other potentially dangerous substances.

Be wary of packaging. As in other industries, plastic and packaging is an environmental problem. Seeking out products with low-waste packages can help mitigate that issue, Sierra Club said. For example, there are some companies that use recycled plastics recovered from the ocean. Alternatively, consumers could try to find hemp-based packaging.

The guide also offers tips for specific types of cannabis products.

For example, when it comes to edibles, consumers should seek out vegan goodies. Beyond arguments that a plant-based diet represents a humane alternative, it’s also the case that animal agriculture is overly polluting and resource intensive.

For smoking, the group says that glass pipes are “inherently earth-friendlier” than rolling papers, as they cut down on waste and production. The environmentally conscious cannabis consumer should also buy flowers in jars instead of as single pre-rolls, “to reduce throwaway packaging.”

As far as vaping goes, Sierra Club recommends spending your money with companies that offer recycling programs for used cartridges.

Meanwhile, activists in Montana are also seeing a link between environmentalism and marijuana. A voter-approved initiative to legalize cannabis in the state calls for a significant amount of tax revenue from marijuana sales to be allocated to conservation programs.

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Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash.

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