Marijuana industry workers and advocates spoke out against proposed state changes to both retail and medical marijuana rules in a public hearing Tuesday.
The most contentious issue: limiting greenhouse grows.
If passed, a new production cap rule would allow marijuana warehouses to grow up to 3,600 plants while limiting greenhouses and outdoor cultivation sites to 1,800 plants.
“This is completely against what we need to do,” said Greg Duran, a cannabis greenhouse consultant and marijuana industry advocate. “We need to make the leap from being inside and use greenhouse techniques to reduce the light we have to use, reduce water, reduce costs.”
Currently, the largest producers of medical and retail marijuana in Colorado operate within warehouses. These warehouses run intense lighting and ventilation machines that cause a significant strain on the electricity grid. One national study released in 2012 showed that indoor marijuana cultivation nationwide accounted for 1 percent of the entire national energy consumption and costs about $6 billion in energy expenses each year – and that was before recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington.
According to the study, an average kilogram of marijuana can cause 4,600 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions – which is about the same amount of CO2 emissions as three million U.S. cars. A recent marijuana market study in this state shows that about 77 metric tons, or 77,000 kilograms of marijuana will be sold in Colorado’s pot shops this year.
However, greenhouses, which would give the marijuana plant direct access to sunlight – could eliminate some of the costs of growing, specifically in ventilation and lighting. This could lower the cost of producing marijuana in Colorado while decreasing the cannabis carbon footprint.
The other benefit of greenhouse grows are larger yields.
“You look at some greenhouses in California and those marijuana plants are basically trees, growing 12 feet tall sometimes,” said Deputy Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, Ron Kammerzell, who oversees marijuana enforcement.
These mega-marijuana plants can produce far more useable cannabis per plant compared to warehouse plants. That poses a sort of challenge for the Marijuana Enforcement Division.
In a previous Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analysis, state officials acknowledged that too much marijuana is still being consumed from the gray or black market, and that stores and legal operations need to produce more.
However, Colorado marijuana enforcement must also comply with federal stipulations. That means finding a balance where legal growers have sufficient crop to fend off the gray and black markets, but not so much that it would be exported for illegal sales in other states.
The state fears that large plants in greenhouses might push production over that line.
“We spend a considerable amount of time looking at indoor versus outdoor grows,” said Meg Collins of the Cannabis Business Alliance, and member of production cap work group meetings. “Frankly, the outdoor and greenhouse grows just produce more marijuana, which is why we have a plant count limit.”
But even if plants grown in greenhouses or outdoors do yield twice as much marijuana as plants grown in warehouses, potential greenhouse growers are concerned about the limitations set forth by the proposed rules.
“I feel like I am walking on a tightrope,” said Tom Pennington, a medical dispensary owner in Denver, who hopes to operate a greenhouse grow operation, depending on the rules. “These regulations seem to pop up out of nowhere, and seem to favor certain groups.”
The state considers the production rules a work in progress and relies on the feedback of the community to help shape new regulations. But those in the industry are concerned that additional regulations could cause some businesses to fail.
“We are already contending with more than 500 or 600 pages of regulations,” said Mark Slaugh, executive director of a iComply, an organization that provides compliance training with medical and retail marijuana laws. “In a truly free market, we wouldn’t have to have all of these.”
For now, the marijuana industry in Colorado is not a free market, as it is still illegal on a federal level. Still, those present Tuesday want to create a functioning system and recognize that working group meetings will continue as the new industry develops.
The production control policy changes was only one of many proposed policy changes. Other important points included testing and labeling for cannabis-infused edibles, a tracking system for medical patients, and training for all marijuana related employees.
The public hearing Tuesday was the final opportunity for verbal comment on these, and other new rules. However, the Marijuana Enforcement Division will continue accepting written comments through Sept. 8. Final rules are expected late this month.