Since the beginning of time (or at least since whenever the aliens delivered it here) cannabis has been growing naturally under the sun, moon, and stars. From the chilly peaks of the Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan and Pakistan and eventually into the gardens of curious farmers the world over, for millennia the plant has followed a relatively predictable one-crop-per-year cycle.
It wasn’t until much more recently on the grand scale of time that mankind began cultivating the cannabis plant indoors and while there is a wholesome and worthwhile debate to be had about whether indoor or outdoor weed is superior, the fact of the matter is that the origins of indoor pot growing had little to do with quality, and more to do with ducking cops, feds, thieves, and nosy neighbs when cannabis became Public Enemy #1 in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Until then, rogue growers would utilize camouflage netting or natural canopy growth from native trees to disguise their guerilla grows from pesky pigs scanning the fields from a helicopter overhead. As demand for the plant continued to grow, growers continued to go deeper into hiding and eventually they found themselves remodeling basements, bedrooms, garages, and even small warehouses in order to simulate the sun by way of high-powered artificial lights and other climate control mechanisms that they felt allowed them to “play god”.
The result was a complete change in the way many of us looked at weed, literally. Due to canopy height restrictions – aka THE CEILING – tall, stretchy, lanky Sativa-dom plants were shunned in favor of shorter, squattier, bushier plants with more dense and heavy buds. Yes, you can thank prohibition, in large part, for your favorite OG Kush cuts.
Whether grown in soil, or hydroponically, indoor weed quickly gained favor in popular culture due to its bling’d out trichome production and enhanced bud structure. This was especially true in Southern California.
In 2011, the Journal of Energy Policy estimated that up to 1% of the nation’s TOTAL energy consumption was due to indoor cannabis cultivation. Remember, at that point, there were no legal rec states or markets so the vast, vast majority of those grows were illegal. It is said that power companies generate over $6 Billion annually from cannabis growers. The problem is, it takes roughly 10x the energy to power one square foot of an indoor cannabis grow than it does to power one square foot in a typical office building… 4x higher than the energy use of a standard hospital. It currently takes as much power to produce one pre-roll as it does to brew 18 pints of beer.
This is enough energy to power nearly two million American households for a year. Today in California, indoor cannabis cultivation accounts for a full 3% of the state’s total energy consumption. Similarly, indoor grows are sucking up 4% of Denver’s total electricity.
This would all be unsustainable enough but when you add the amount of water consumption in a drought-stricken state like Cali, and then pile on the incredible amounts of waste associated with a perpetually harvested indoor operation it doesn’t take a time traveler to see that the future of mass produced cannabis is outdoors, under the sun.
We’d be disingenuous if we let outdoor growers off the hook so easily, though. For decades many of them have taken part in some of the most Earth un-friendly activities you can imagine – polluting and diverting natural waterways, using harmful pesticides or fertilizers, stripping entire swaths of public lands, and so much more. But the regulations that form the framework of cannabis legalization measures in California and elsewhere now set ultra-strict guidelines on exactly how and where cannabis can be grown outdoors for legal commercial purposes.
In fact, most cannabis advocates will argue that those rules are far too strict. California is divided into 482 different municipalities – cities or towns with their own local governments. As of today, more than two years after voters approved legal weed in Cali, just 12 municipalities allow for ANY commercial outdoor cannabis cultivation.
You may personally prefer to only smoke top-shelf indoor bud, and you would not be alone, but you will soon be in the minority if you’re not already. The booming legal cannabis industry is attracting new consumers from all walks of life, and for most of them, the lower price (generally) of outdoor cultivated cannabis is the lure, and the satisfactory flavor and effects they get from it sets the hook. Additionally, with more and more people turning away from the flower from of the plant in favor of more convenient ingestion methods like concentrates, extracts, tinctures, distillates, and edibles, the “starting material” (ie. the quality of the buds being used) matters less than ever for most of the marketplace.
As potential profit margins get tighter and tighter in the wacky ass weed industry, energy efficiency is becoming a major topic of discussion. As technology improves, the costs (financial and environmental) of indoor cannabis cultivation should eventually drop to a point where it can remain a viable segment of the market. That will not happen overnight, however, and in the meantime a state like California would be wise to return to its roots and fast track the approval of more outdoor cultivation.
This, in our opinion, is the best way to ensure the survival of indoor cultivation. Like craft beer, indoor grown weed should always have a place in the market.
Emerald Triangle area grower Swami, of Swami Select, likes to say, “You don’t drink wine made from indoor grown grapes, do you?” He has a great point, but we bet if someone did grow some dank ass indoor grapes, that wine would be amazing too.