Cannabis and climate change

by | Jul 25, 2019

Quite a coincidence, that we should be talking about building a cannabis industry at the exact time climate change poses its deepest challenge to civilization’s hegemony. Or maybe it isn’t.

To be sure, there’s a lot of attention given to business models and brands that, when you take a look at them, are really just business as usual. It’s the same men – and they’re usually men – sitting in the boardroom seats, and it’s the same extractive, profit-driven incentives driving all of them, no matter what their rhetoric. Many of them are newcomers to the plant, and their decisions reflect and forget that, all at once. For those of us sitting on the frontiers of the industry, we can see a hard storm coming, and it will come for them soon enough.

I speak of climate change. Grass Valley is only 75 miles or so away from where the Camp Fire roared through a vast cross section of timber, at a blinding rate. Helicopters filled the air, day and night, and a light blanket of soot and smoke draped our valleys. One of the main utility state companies, whose aging power lines was shown to have caused the fires, has already gone bankrupt, and while cannabis businesses may not have lost as much this time around as we did last year when the Tubbs Fire raged through Sonoma and Napa, everyone knows there’s going to be a next time. Speaking with a Tahoe Hotshot firefighter on the subject, I recognize as a farmer that I now have to start worrying about fires starting next month, rather than September/October, which is when the fire season once began. And while insurance companies are beginning to offer crop insurance, most cottage farmers simply can’t afford them on top of all the expenses added upon them due to compliance. 

But you only have to look around to see the pain evenly distributed. A brief glance at the news will inform you: last month, the EU’s satellite service declared last June the hottest of all Junes recorded in human history. This was buoyed in part by a recent heatwave that roiled Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic and caused wildfires in Spain. Fellow farmers in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas found their fields and towns submerged by rising floodwaters from the Missouri River, and Louisiana is still digging out from Tropical Storm Barry. New York. And of course, many of you throughout the country just endured a massive heatwave tied to the deaths of five people – and yet more flooding for Brooklyn just yesterday. A recent VOX report declared future days where the temperatures may be so high, it will be dangerous to leave the house.

Next month, on August 18th, Iceland will unveil a plaque near where the once-mammoth Okjükull Glacier once stood. Take a look:

climate change commemorative plaque

Call me crazy, but any future society that rose to this challenge will get a strong assist from cannabis. And I’m not speaking about the industry you know, but the industry at the periphery, listening closely to what the plant is telling us.

The environmental damage of big cannabis

Currently, there are two mutually reinforcing trends that have overtaken cannabis, each of which damages the environment in their own way. The first are the industrial megagrows in counties such as Salinas and Santa Barbara. I have spoken to the vast amounts of electricity and resources expended to grow in this fashion previously, but even when these inputs are reduced, as they are with greenhouses, they will still overfeed their plants with synthetic nutrients, and they also churn through soil at an ungodly rate. Simply put, the amount of resources in terms of water, electricity and soil is simply not sustainable in the long run, and considering the already uneasy truce most cannabis farmers struggle to maintain, it will be harder to find support for this model while co-existing in the harsher realities the future will pose us.

Then there’s the outlaw growers, which often bear a stronger resemblance to the corporate growers than they might want to admit themselves. I have personally seen and heard of horrible things these people have done to the environment in my own community. They’ll clear-cut forests, leading to soil erosion and diminished, impoverished ecosystems for the community. And they’ll also use nitrate-laden fertilizers which seep into the ground and poison the water table. Many of the pesticides they’ll use to keep foragers from nibbling at their plants are usually banned for human consumption, and they have devastated whole populations of forest animals (think the Humboldt marten, whose status as an endangered species is heightened by such practices.)

What unites the corporation and the outlaw together is money, and winning at all costs. If all that matters is the bottom line at the end of the year, then who cares about the world future generations will inherit? It’s a dynamic that is not unique to cannabis. But cannabis has her own agenda, and where I come from, she’s the boss. And a world that takes its orders from her turns out to be a very livable one, indeed.

cannabis and climate change

The world cannabis built

Building this world per cannabis’s specifications is a big reason why I make the decisions I do. It’s how I live my day-to-day, and it’s why I have built permaculture principles into my SOPs. I like to believe that the work Medicine Box does is as sustainable as we can get. We use local organic cultivators that grow our material for us. We return the proceeds within our home community. Our packaging is from environmentally friendly sources. And we create strategic relationships with companies that uphold our values to increase synergies.

This is all connected to wellness – the overriding imperative to heal ailing societies, corporations and planets. As we reach deep into our medicine cabinets, we’re starting to consider, with our backs to the wall, solutions that were once considered taboo – think yoga, or psilocybin, both of which were not too long ago seen as dangerous for different reasons (yoga for its perceived connection to brainwashing and manipulative gurus; psilocybin for its connection to the counterculture and drug abuse). The cannabis tradition that is maintained by those responsible for its greatest innovations ties in directly to many of these innovations, and will be responsible for countless more as the years go on.

Steve Jobs understood it early. When he returned back to Apple in the ‘90s, he literally had to bring the company back from near-extinction. And he knew that the only way he’d be able to do that was to “think different.” And that’s what we face now, with an even bigger threat to our lives. Any solution to this will require the same nimbleness and ingenuity of thinking, and that means thinking with a new mind. That’s what cannabis gives us: new vistas into optimal health, wellness and mental ability. What could we accomplish with all of this at our fingertips? A world better than the one we were born into wouldn’t be a bad place to start.