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Producing pot in Clallam County

The six-month marijuana moratorium within Sequim City limits established in February remains and won’t likely be revisited until late August but that doesn’t mean the cannabis industry is not evolving throughout the county.

Sequim, an area nestled at the foot of the Olympic Mountain range under the umbrella of the rainshadow, provides the most ideal conditions in Washington for growing cannabis in greenhouses, said Tim Humiston, potential Clallam County processor and producer of Canna Organix LLC.

If you ask Humiston why he came to the area once Initiative 502 opened the doors allowing him to follow both a business endeavor and existing interest, his response is “mostly for the environment and climate,” Humiston said.

Similar to most of western Washington, Sequim has mild weather patterns and a far from extreme temperature range. Because of the lack of extremes, unlike places like eastern Washington with hot summers and cold winters, Humiston anticipates the area being a fairly energy and economically efficient place for cannabis production.

“With a mild climate you’re not having to drastically cool or heat your growing environment,” Humiston said.

However, as with any evolving industry there are a lot of unknowns and questions as to how local cannabis production may impact the area, thus Humiston conversed with the Dungeness River Management Team, which includes community and government officials, last week during a public meeting about the projected energy requirements for cannabis production and the water needs — a heightened concern since the Department of Ecology enforced the Dungeness Water Resources Management Rule.

Water

So far the agency that distributes mitigation certificates, the Dungeness Water Exchange, hasn’t had any request specifically for cannabis irrigation, Amanda Cronin, administrator for the exchange, said.

“We don’t have a package for cannabis yet, but we’re flexible to put one together if someone has a request,” Cronin said.

Chances are with the large amount of land the Dungeness Water Rule encompasses, most cannabis producers wanting to grow around Sequim will have to work with the Washington State Department of Ecology to adequately mitigate cannabis irrigation and associated water use. Fortunately for Humiston, the area within the Carlsborg Industrial Loop where he and his partners intend to establish Canna Organix already has existing irrigation rights and they will be able to hook up to Clallam County PUD.

How much water    does cannabis need?

The amount of water per gram of product is the ratio used to quantify the amount of water cannabis production requires because of the wide age and size range a single plant can be harvested at, Humiston said. Additional factors that influence the amount of water and energy consumption for production includes the medium which the producer uses, such as soil or hydroponic and the style of operation, like indoor, outdoor or a hybrid of the two. Thus, depending on the techniques used, Humiston predicts water usage being anywhere from 0.15-0.69 gallons per gram of product, or at an average annual consumption rate of 100 grams that is 15-69 gallons per year per consumer. This amount of water consumption equates to flushing your toilet one to two more times a month, Humiston said.

Another way to look at the water needs of cannabis is to compare crop to crop. For example, Humiston said cannabis requires 16.5-20 inches of water annually per acre, whereas blueberries use about 18 inches water annually per acre.

However, it is important to note Humiston’s experience analyzing cannabis production has been in California for the past seven years and thus the natural resource needs of cannabis production locally may vary. But, with a milder climate than California, Humiston anticipates cannabis production to be a more ecologically sound practice here.

Energy, greenhouse gas pollution

“I don’t think there should be concern over the amount of energy,” Humiston said. “It (cannabis production) is energy intensive, but the economic potential for cannabis versus other energy intensive industries like mining, for example, is much greater.”

According to University of California Berkeley analysis, Michael O’Hare for BOTEC Analysis Corporation’s 2013 study, Environmental Risk and Opportunities in Cannabis Cultivation, “the most significant environmental effect of cannabis production, and the one that varies most with different production practice, is energy consumption, especially fossil energy use with climate effects from release of greenhouse gas.”

The analysis states indoor-grown cannabis is the most energy intensive production practice, using “2000 kWh per pound of product.” The study compares those energy needs to aluminum production, which only requires about 7 kWh per pound.

However, after accounting for the value of the products with cannabis costing approximately $2,000 per pound wholesale and aluminum costing about 90 cents per pound wholesale the “energy is a much smaller fraction of the product cost.” For example, based on those wholesale prices “it takes 8,000 kWh to make $1,000 worth of aluminum vs. 1,000 kWh for $1,000 of marijuana,” according to the analysis by O’Hare.

Although Humiston doesn’t see the need for “concern” necessarily he does think “there needs to be a sense of awareness and room for improvement” as the industry develops and streamlines with bigger and more efficient production opportunities.

As it is now with a lot of small, indoor grows scattered about the county, it is difficult to get an accurate baseline for both energy and water demands, Humiston said.

As a result of the legalization many of the “small and inefficient” grow operations likely will fade away as the industry gets brought out into the light, Humiston said. Indoor cannabis production really became a method of growing in order to remain secretive. Now that the industry is being introduced into the mainstream, producers are more likely to invest, develop and improve the efficiency of production operations without the legal risks and potential of being shut down at any moment.

“We’re (Canna Organix personnel) trying to push public opinion toward a more natural production process which would reduce the carbon footprint of the whole industry,” Humiston said.

Waste, pesticides and fertilizers

The Liquor Control Board will use BioTrackTHC to provide the software that will trace everything and anything done to every cannabis plant grown under Initiative 502. The system will track the pesticides and/or fertilizer used on the plant, which also must be approved by the Liquor Control Board, from start to sale, Humiston said.

“The tracking system doesn’t allow any waste to be easily discarded either,” Humiston said.

The idea behind the tracking system is to enforce honest production and keep track of all produced product and waste so under ideal conditions products can’t leak out to the black market or pollute the surrounding environment.

However, there really isn’t much waste produced, Humiston said. The majority of the excess plant material can be processed to make things like oils and edibles.

Depending on the class of fertilizers, pesticides and solvents, if used, the Liquor Control Board will designate appropriate disposal.

Although any product produced by Canna Organix cannot be certified organic because that is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration certification, and cannabis is only legal on a state level, Humiston plans only to use and produce organic products.

As the cannabis industry continues to take shape, anyone involved at this point is really a spokesman for the industry given its recent legalization, Humiston said, and thus feels a responsibility to provide information to potentially alleviate any of the unknowns and allow individuals to make informed decisions about the industry.

The potential ecological impacts surrounding the recreational legalization of cannabis is just one of many ongoing and developing topics of interest as the industry begins to take hold.

 

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.

 

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