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Is it true that cannabis is not sustainable, for example because of high water consumption? If so, what are more environmentally friendly alternatives? Magic mushrooms, maybe?

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  • Why do you think it's not sustainable? Any source for this? Also what is your goal?
    – THelper
    Nov 27, 2021 at 12:01
  • @thelper that's what they said in the media, but it's apparently an overestimate: nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02526-3. The carbon footprint is an issue, though Nov 27, 2021 at 16:59
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    Considering that in places where cannabis is illegal, it is grown by amateurs indoors in secret places, I would be very surprised to find out if the water consumption is a problem. My understanding is that if cannabis can be grown indoors by amateurs, the amount of water it needs must stay reasonable. Illegal cannabis growers are found by thermal cameras that detect the heat from the massive lamps that are needed for growing it. Thus, the main sustainability issue seems to be need for light, rather than water. However, if it was legal, it could be grown outdoors in natural light.
    – juhist
    Nov 27, 2021 at 20:00
  • If water consumption is a measure of sustainability then cotton might be one of the more unsustainable crops. Cotton consumption is responsible for 2.6% of the global water use. As a global average, 44% of the water use for cotton growth and processing is not for serving the domestic market but for export. The water footprint of cotton consumption
    – Fred
    Nov 28, 2021 at 5:51
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    A distinction should be made not only between legal/illegal but also grow method. For people having a garden or balcony etc, it's possible to grow it (possibly aided with a greenhouse) and use collected rainwater without adding any pesticides/synthetic fertilizer/.... In such case it's probably as sustainable as can be.
    – stijn
    Nov 29, 2021 at 11:19

1 Answer 1

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There are two very different ways cannibis is grown, and those have radically different environmental impacts. This is somewhat distinct from the legality differences.

Grown outdoors cannibis often is more problematic as a weed than for any other environmental impacts, because illegal growers often use remote "wilderness" ares to grow in, don't clean up sites and only use them for a short time, leaving behind many viable seeds and often whole plants. Legal growers are generally better because they use existing farmland and are more effectively regulated.

But in terms of water, electricity, fertiliser etc use, outdoor cannibis is better likened to commercial hemp farming for fibre or seed (pdf of paper can be downloaded, link is to abstract). In that regard it is a less damaging crop than most and is even used as a rest crop or for restoration because it roots relatively deeply and uses less water and fertiliser than alternative low value crops (like alfalfa or peas).

Grown indoors, normally hydroponically with artifical light, cannibis is just as horrible as any other kind of indoor farming. Especially when done illegally water use can be high due to single-use or open hydroponic systems, and electricity use is typically also very high (grow sites are more often detected through electricity useand especially by theft, than by water use). The few references I've found to legal indoor growing suggest it's expensive and thus only used for niche applications.

The more general problem with illegal production is that the penalties for drug production far exceed the penalties for environmental damage, resource theft, violation of occupational health and safety laws etc. So the producers typically ignore those laws and thus the damage can be unreasonably high (why bother with the fuss of a closed loop hyroponic system with all the pumps and filters if you're stealing the water anyway?)

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