Massachusetts and California continue to battle it out for the title of “The Cleanest and Greenest State,” this time on the cannabis front. Voters in California and Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in November 2016. Each state already had medical marijuana on the books, though California’s legal market has been operating since 1996, nearly 20 years before Massachusetts’ foray into legal weed.

California regulators have been exploring the energy and environmental implications of a legal market for marijuana within their borders for several years now. CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, California’s official cannabis licensing organization, recently completed its draft Program Environmental Impact Report (with the final due out this fall), and The California Public Utilities Commission separately is investigating the impact on energy consumption and the power grid.

Massachusetts is taking a similar approach, with lawmakers charging its nascent oversight agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, with establishing energy and environmental standards for licensees operating in the state. For the Bay State, this is a major milestone and puts it at the vanguard of states working to limit the environmental impact from a potentially booming demand for energy- and water-hungry marijuana.

The Massachusetts law includes two important sections that directly or indirectly address the carbon footprint of cannabis production. These sections mandate that the forthcoming Cannabis Control Commission:

  • “…shall report … on participation in the regulated marijuana industry by farmers and [agricultural] businesses.” (SECTION 59); and
  • “…shall establish energy and environmental standards” based on “recommendations provided to the commission on: (i) ways to reduce energy and water usage in the marijuana industry; (ii) mitigating other environmental impacts; (iii) annual energy audits, energy efficiency measures, energy conservation measures and energy conservation projects ….; (iv) additional best practices…” (SECTION 80)

Section 59, “the farms clause,” is intriguing interesting because it potentially creates the opportunity for cannabis to be grown outdoors on traditional farms, a practice that uses a fraction as much energy as indoor grows that are currently the only method marijuana for the legal market is grown in Massachusetts and is currently prohibited by the law governing medical marijuana. Even if 10% of the marijuana legally sold in Massachusetts was grown outdoors, the energy savings would be substantial.

Section 80 is the meat and potatoes of the environmental protections aspects of the bill.  It lays the groundwork for a fruitful and what I expect will be a robust conversation around what steps stakeholders can and must take to foster a more environmentally sensitive approach to marijuana cultivation.

With the Massachusetts bill now signed and sealed, there is now a concrete framework in place for stakeholders to come together and establish industry-leading best practices and help reduce the energy and water footprint of cultivation nationwide.