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Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs across the United States. Serving as a psychoactive drug, marijuana is still grown – legally and illegally – in different parts of the country. The legalization of marijuana in 37 states is a reason behind the rise in marijuana-based businesses.

Despite an increasingly positive outlook toward these recreational and medicinal drugs, their effect on the environment remains mainly undiscussed. Illegal marijuana growing can have a domino effect, impacting the environment. Furthermore, it damages the ecosystem by polluting the water, endangering the wildlife, and causing air pollution.

Much has changed since cannabis was first planted in the United States. Initially, most of these plants came from the Mexicans who had experience in farming. But the expansion of this profitable market due to legalization has convinced many money-oriented business owners to take over cannabis cultivation farms. This rise is cannabis cultivation is causing severe environmental damage.

Water Scarcity

The cannabis plant requires a large amount of water to grow, approximately 22 liters of water in a day is how much a single plant need. This water-intensive plant requires more water on average compared to other commercial crops, including wheat, rice and cotton. In addition to this, it robs the aquatic animals of their life source and increases the risk of water scarcity. Agriculture demands of cannabis plant continue to contribute to the issues of water shortage which negatively weighs on the environment.

Water Toxicity

Not only is cannabis water-intensive, but also nutrient-intensive. Providing these plants with nutrients, especially in cases of illegal cultivation, causes water pollution. Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are some of the nutrients essential in the growth of cannabis. Nutrient sprays, soil amendments, and pesticides used during farming can seep into the water, polluting it with toxicity.

Rainfall and excessive irrigation may carry the used pesticides and nutrient amendments into the water supply. Continued use of the toxic water can further contaminate the soil and the groundwater. The poisoned crops and water pose health risks for humans who consume them. In addition to this, government-provided clean-up initiatives or resources are insufficient and inaccessible to the farmers who illegally cultivate cannabis. Legalizing cannabis can significantly help in getting the contamination under control.

Water Theft

Both legal and Illegal marijuana cultivators are known to steal water. Around 450 gallons of water is required to grow cannabis indoors and twice as much if cultivated outdoors. Water taps are available for crop farmers at a fixed cost decided by the state. To dodge paying the substantial water cost, farmers steal water from other sources.

Only a few licensed businesses follow water regulations. Others continue to use the water without paying or find other illegal means to acquire water. Some companies choose not to get permits to avoid paying a hefty tax and regulation fee.

Legalizing cannabis growth can reduce the concerns regarding water theft and the use of illegal means to acquire water.

Damage to the Aquatic life

Water toxicity and scarcity considerably damage the aquatic ecosystem. Marine species that inhabit these bodies, including fish and amphibians, are harmed by cannabis cultivation. Salmonid fishes require clean, cold water with appropriate streamflow. A reduction in water flow gives a rise in the water temperature, reducing the growth rate of salmonid fishes, putting them at risk. This impacts the whole ecosystem by disturbing the food chain and increasing the risk of predation. Salmonids and other amphibians are also endangered due to sensitivity to temperature changes and reduced flows, along with the water pollution from pesticides.

Air Pollution

Cannabis has been found to emit volatile organic compounds (VOC), which contribute to air pollution. VOC play a significant role in ozone formation and particulate matter pollution. Almost 89% of the total VOC in the atmosphere is emitted during the vegetation process. These compounds also interact with other gasses to form air pollutants after being released into the air.

Furthermore, fertilization used in cannabis cultivation also contributes to poor air quality. Ammonia in nitrogen fertilizers also reacts with other acidic compounds in the air, creating fine particle pollution. This becomes hazardous for humans, leading them to difficulty in breathing.

Soil Erosion

Another drawback of cannabis cultivation is soil erosion. Cannabis crops planted on steep slopes lead to soil erosion after they are harvested and cleared. Soil erosion causes the land to lose its fertility for future harvests. Businesses have also participated in deforestation and fragmentation of the forests to clear the land for cannabis cultivation, which accelerates soil erosion.

Energy Use

Cannabis production also demands rigorous amounts of energy, specifically electricity. In the USA, cannabis growth takes up about 1% of the country’s electricity. Many stages of the cultivation process require electricity, most important being the in-door lighting and water and air circulation. While outdoor cultivation does not take up much energy, indoor planting demands large amounts of electricity.

Electricity use leaves behind a significant carbon emission. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emission from cannabis production alone equals the energy consumed by the rest of the agricultural sector in the United States.


Illegally growing cannabis also demands the farmers to use illegal methods to acquire the necessary resources for growth. This has been shown to have a detrimental effect on the environment, leading to increased air and water pollution, high carbon footprint, hurting wildlife and the people. Legalizing cannabis cultivation can help target many of the environmental issues that have followed as a result.

Despite some businesses delaying the licensing procedure to avoid paying additional fees, legalization can allow many new businesses to enter the legal fold. This will give the state greater control in regulating the cultivation process and minimizing its environmental impact. Necessary reforms and restrictions could be implemented if cannabis growth was legalized.

Attorney Anne van Leynseele is working to legalize the growth of cannabis in the US. She is among the noteworthy personalities making an effort toward cannabis legalization.

Anne’s book Cultivating Crimes: The Dark Side of Legal Marijuana discusses more about marijuana legalization to educate others about the issue. Illegalizing marijuana has created more problems than it has provided solutions. Legalizing cannabis would be a step towards a better America.

Marijuana is a subject to intense criticism, however, there are many ways illegal cannabis legalizing this drug can help the people as well as the country. If you wish to learn more about how legalizing cannabis can be beneficial, read Anne’s book Cultivating Crimes: The Dark Side of Legal Marijuana to get more insight into the matter.

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