news-marijuanaplantsPhoto by Sue Misao

 

BY MARCY STAMPER

A local organization and state Rep. Joel Kretz see marijuana as a crop that could be successfully – and sustainably – grown in the hot, dry climate of Eastern Washington, avoiding the intensive energy consumption of standard production techniques in completely enclosed warehouses under powerful artificial lights.

“This is one of the areas where we might have an edge over Western Washington,” said Kretz, a Republican from Wauconda, who said it has the potential for wide support from environmentalists and as an economic generator for Eastern Washington, where smaller growers could raise cannabis in greenhouses using the sun.

Kretz became involved after hearing from Okanogan resident Jeremy Moberg, who watched the rule-making process of the Washington State Liquor Control Board and became increasingly alarmed about the energy used to grow marijuana indoors.

“It’s probably the most unsustainable product you could produce,” said Moberg, who said that producing one pound of cannabis consumes enough carbon to drive across the United States five times.

Moberg organized the Okanogan Cannabis Association in late February and has been trying to educate the Liquor Control Board, lawmakers and the public about the environmental costs of indoor pot-growing ever since. The association’s focus is “for the state to adopt sustainable … practices for producing cannabis using the sun as the primary energy source.”

Moberg said he believes that politicians and others involved in the licensing process in Western Washington have ignored the issue because it would not benefit their economy. The climate west of the Cascades is too cool and damp to grow marijuana without carefully controlled warehouse conditions, he said.

Moberg and Kretz believe security for ventilated greenhouses is possible using adequate fencing and cameras.

Kretz sponsored two bills in March allowing people to grow marijuana on outdoor agricultural land in rural areas and requiring the Department of Ecology to assess the environmental impact of growing methods. Because it was after the cut-off, the legislation wasn’t taken up this year, but remains live for next year. “It was basically to send a message to the Liquor Control Board to show I’m serious about it,” said Kretz.

As the Liquor Board released its draft rules last week, the case against the carbon footprint of indoor marijuana operations received attention in the Seattle Times and other media.

The Okanogan Cannabis Association said in a press release that they were encouraged by the Liquor Board’s decision to allow greenhouses to grow cannabis outdoors.

The group is now urging the board to adopt sustainability standards in line with the state’s effort to reduce carbon emissions by giving preference to licensees who grow marijuana with the sun as the primary source of energy.

“I think there would be tremendous support for this – if you’re in the environmental movement, wouldn’t you be in favor of green marijuana?” said Kretz. “There’s a huge marketing advantage – people care where things have been grown. Maybe the free market will ultimately resolve it.”

People may comment on the proposed rules through June 10. Details are on the Liquor Control Board website at www.liq.wa.gov.