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Climate and Environment

It’s 4/20: Can Cannabis Help Fight Climate Change? Some Say Yes

A blue ceramic bowl contains green buds of marijuana
Photo by anna★bee via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
(anna★bee)
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It’s that time of year when marijuana is in the air: 4/20. For cannabis lovers, it’s a beloved holiday commemorating a meet-up time for a group of weed enthusiasts. But some in the cannabis industry want to put a little more intention behind their high.

That’s because some “highs” are not so good — like the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, that ends up in the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels to create electricity, drive cars and even grow weed. And this month, for the first time in recorded history, average concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere hit 420 parts per million. That’s a bad high — and it’s fueling worsening heat, wildfires and drought in California and around the world.

Ojai resident Peter Deneen saw those alarming numbers and thought: 4/20 on 4/20? Why not throw a party to bring cannabis and climate action together? He’s a freelance science and environment writer and served as a high seas narcotics interdiction officer for the U.S. Coast Guard for 12 years.

“The 420 holiday is a celebration, a celebration of a plant,” Deneen said. “How can we take this day of celebration of a plant — which I enjoy and value so much as a tool for myself — how do we turn it into a day of climate action, education, awareness?”

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That led to him partnering with a friend to put together an event, dubbed 420PPM, at The Hopper Compound, the historic Venice home of late movie star Dennis Hopper. The event runs today from 3 to 9 p.m. and will have live music, yoga and art, as well as a panel discussion with local cannabis farmers who use sustainable growing practices, a documentary film viewing and a raffle to raise money for local climate programs. And of course, there’ll be plenty of sustainably-grown weed. (You can buy tickets at 420ppm.live).

Cannabis may have the stereotype of being for tree-loving hippies, but the industry is actually not so great for the planet. Weed’s legalization caused a jump in industrial operations, which come with environmental impacts. Researchers in Colorado found emissions from the state’s cannabis industry was on par with those of the state’s coal industry.

Lexi Kafkis, co-organizer of the event and a creative director for cannabis brands, said it’s time consumers start demanding better.

“We're getting over this hump of the novelty of legal cannabis,” Kafkis said. “And it's like the perfect time to start educating on what cannabis you should be consuming and how it impacts the environment.”

How and where cannabis is grown affects its carbon footprint, Kafkis said. Research has found indoor cannabis cultivation produces dozens of times more planet-heating carbon dioxide than outdoor operations. But outdoor operations can suck up too much water, especially if grown at a large-scale in dry areas, which has happened with black market operations in the Mojave desert.

These are reasons why some cannabis cultivators are using regenerative growing practices to improve the health of their soil and pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Some of those farmers will be part of a panel at the 420PPM event. (You can learn more about regenerative farming practices here).

More cannabis farmers are getting on board: a coalition of them are working to get more farms to grow with regenerative and sustainable practices by getting certified. Then, consumers can also make more informed decisions about the weed they buy.

“It's time to realize that we don't have to just settle for what's out there, we need to take responsibility and individual action for our choices,” Deneen said. “And there is a choice: You can make decisions that support a regenerative solution, a climate solution.”

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