Warehouse v. Greenhouse: A Rift in the Recreational Marijuana Industry

Whatever else comes from the public hearing last week on proposed new production rules, it’s apparent that Colorado’s still nascent recreational marijuana industry does not speak with one voice.

As Rocky Mountain PBS I-News reported following the hearing, the most contentious issue is placing more stringent limitations on the number of plants that can be grown in greenhouses. This as opposed to the different number of plants that the proposed rules would allow to be grown in warehouse settings.

From there it gets complicated.

Trim room manager Lara Herzog cuts down marijuana plants at Medicine Man, a marijuana dispensary and retailer, in Denver on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Policymakers in Colorado are considering changes to the state's production limits on legal marijuana to combat the sale of pot in unregulated markets.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Trim room manager Lara Herzog cuts down marijuana plants at Medicine Man, a marijuana dispensary and retailer, in Denver on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. Policymakers in Colorado are considering changes to the state's production limits on legal marijuana to combat the sale of pot in unregulated markets.

The proposed rule would allow 3,600 plants to be grown in a warehouse, with the attendant intense use of electricity for lighting and ventilation systems. But  only 1,800 plants could be grown in greenhouses or outdoor cultivation settings, which are more dependent on natural light.

“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.”

Which is not the way it is seen by those who have invested in warehouses with all their hardware.

State officials, meanwhile, appear to be between a rock and a hard place. They want  legal marijuana supplies sufficient to draw demand away from the gray and black markets, which are still thriving, as I-News has reported. But they don’t want so much marijuana that it pours over into other states for sale, which would violate federal stipulations.

Greenhouse production could lower the cost of producing marijuana in Colorado while decreasing the cannabis carbon footprint. But those greenhouse plants can become huge.

“You look at some greenhouses in California and those marijuana plants are basically trees, growing 12 feet tall sometimes,” said Ron Kammerzell, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, who oversees marijuana enforcement.

So, 1,800 plants grown in a greenhouse could equal or surpass the yield of 3,600 plants grown in a warehouse, which could be fair, and split the difference between producing too little and too much. Or so the theory goes.

The state considers the production rules a work in progress and accepted written comments through Sept. 8, with final rules expected late this month.

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