Should the federal government create environmental regulations for the cannabis industry?

Local researcher Rielle Capler makes a case for integrating regulations that will mandate sustainable cultivation practices

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      As witnesses speak to the Standing Committee on Health this week in Ottawa about the future of cannabis legalization, one Vancouver researcher is concerned that the Committee isn't considering the environmental impacts that will come with a legal cannabis industry.

      Rielle Capler, a UBC PhD candidate and researcher who has studied cannabis use in a therapeutic context for more than 10 years, told the Straight that although the environmental and agricultural aspects of cannabis aren't areas she's studied, she and writer and environmentalist Nola Poirier considered it a crucial aspect of the incoming bill, and one that few others in the cannabis space had brought up to policy makers.

      While cannabis industry members are concerned with what might appear to be more pressing issues, Capler said the idea of a sustainable cannabis industry hasn't registered on the radar of environmental groups either. She said this could be because environmental groups might be hesitant to broach the subject, given the complicated history of cannabis in Canada.

      Together, Capler and Poirier have written a brief to the Standing Committee on Health voicing their concerns.

      "There's so much focus on who's going to get licensed, who's going to produce, who's going to distribute," Capler said in a phone interview, "but we have an opportunity for an agricultural farming industry here, and if our government is considering the environmental issue for food policy, they should also be looking at it for cannabis"."

      The brief brings up issues like pollution, energy draw, and water use, and quantifies the damage by providing a shocking statistic about legal grow operations in the United States:

      "...One square foot of indoor marijuana cultivation uses four times more energy than the same space in a hospital, [and] eight times more energy than a commercial building," it says, quoting a National Geographic story about organic marijuana growers. 

      It goes on to say that without strong environmental standards, the cannabis industry "could have far-reaching, negative environmental impacts".

      "Strong environmental standards could ameliorate these effects, and create this as Canada's first truly sustainable industry," Capler writes.

      Additional pages of the brief provide an in-depth look at how best practices should be implemented in the areas of energy, water quality and efficiency, production inputs, production waste, packaging waste, and land use.

      Signed by prominent industry members including Anandia Labs, Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada, NICHE Canada, Ecology Action Centre, and the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, the brief also calls for "triple-bottom-line accounting across all aspects of the sector" that will help make for a "truly green" legal cannabis industry. 

      She recognizes that a small number of licensed cannabis producers have taken steps to grow in greenhouses, but insists that its important for the idea of sustainable cultivation practices to permeate the current norms when it comes to cannabis growing.

      "We are in situation right now that isn't a joke, in terms of the sustainability of our environment. We all have the responsibility to start prioritizing this with everything we undertake," she said.

      "We have an opportunity to create this new legal industry, where we can regulate every aspect of it. Our government speaks about environmental sustainability. This is their chance."

      In addition to submitting the brief, Capler and Poirier have started an online petition intended for the Standing Committee on Health that calls on the government to include strong environmental regulations in Bill C-45.

      Sign the petition here, or read the full brief here

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