Photo courtesy of L'Eagle Services
Amy Andrle knows a thing or two about growing, processing and selling environmentally-friendly marijuana. Along with her husband, John, she co-owns L’Eagle Services, a cultivator and dispensary in Denver, Colorado that is dedicated to clean cannabis that is pesticide-free and rigorously lab tested.
She’s also a founding board member of the Organic Cannabis Association, which just merged with the Ethical Cannabis Alliance to form the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), where Amy will also serve as a founding board member. The CCC will function as an independent non-profit that uses third-party experts to certify cannabis products as Organically Grown or Fairly Produced.
Despite her many endeavours to push eco-friendly cannabis into the mainstream, Amy took some time to answer a few questions about the energy-hungry marijuana industry — specifically how legalization will help growers migrate toward more sustainable practices.
How is marijuana cultivation — especially unregulated, black-market growing — bad for the environment?
Amy: Growing marijuana is an energy intensive process, and without abiding by proper rules and regulations, the environmental impact of cannabis cultivation is of major concern.
Currently, legalized indoor cultivation accounts for an estimated one percent of total electricity use in the U.S., at a cost of roughly $6 billion per year. Because of the federal legality of marijuana, which is still listed as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, there are no federal regulations on sustainable practices for cannabis cultivators to abide by, and certainly no official standardized certification process for organic cultivation and/or energy responsibility.
While roughly 1-in-5 Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana, until we see widespread federal legalization, black market basement grows will remain in operation. Innovation and the research necessary to determine cultivation best practices can only take place when there is a legal and regulated market within a state. In states that have eliminated the prohibition, one can already see the sustainable efforts adopted by the cannabis industry. In fact, the speed of innovation is staggering as many cannabis businesses are updating mechanical systems every 12 to 18 months to increase environmental efficiency and save money.
Also, the talent pool for cannabis cultivation is greatly expanded in states with a legal market and you see researchers, agriculturalists with degrees and other scientists openly involving themselves in the businesses directly, or in ancillary companies.
It is in black-market grows that federal worker protection standards, high-tech equipment upgrades and open exchange of data and information are not taking place. Ultimately it is up to the state agencies who are moving forward with legalization, and the industry leaders within those states, to take the lead with developing sustainability regulations, policies, and educational resources for cultivators.
Did legalization in Colorado address those problems? What about other states?
Amy: At the local level, Denver’s Department of Environmental Health (DEH) has demonstrated their commitment to ensuring cannabis facilities operate safely and with little environmental impact. The department spearheads the Cannabis Sustainability Work Group (CSWG) of which I am a member. The CSWG promotes non-regulatory sustainability strategies through the development of educational resources, including a best management practices manual (due in September of 2017), and in-kind sponsorship/planning of the Organic Cannabis Association’s annual Cannabis Sustainability Symposium (Oct. 2017).
DEH also opens their Certifiably Green Denver retail certification to cannabis dispensaries, recognizing, among other criteria, sound use of environmental resources and business management practices. While our store, L’Eagle Services, is the first to receive this designation from Denver and is Certifiably Green, the certification does not yet address cultivation standards.
While state and local agencies like the DEH have helped to address these issues it is also the responsibility of industry leaders to set the sustainability agenda and move it forward. We all want our industry to be normalized and sustainable, especially with the current administration. I’m a founding board member of the Organic Cannabis Association (OCA). In addition to the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium, and consumer education, we are pushing for transparent and voluntary certification options to distinguish organic from conventional cannabis cultivation. The consumers deserve a choice, the way they do for food. In the absence of federal organic certification, the consumers need a choice.
Are cultivators committed to growing marijuana in an environmentally friendly way?
Amy: At L’Eagle, our mission is to run an eco-friendly business that supports the environment and the health and wellness of our consumers. Our cultivators are committed to the most environmentally friendly practices. As for the industry as a whole, there is some work to be done, but owner/operators are quick to get on board as they see the energy saving and environmental friendly mechanical systems provide additional value for integrated pest management (HVAC RemeHalo Systems).
Through my board service with the Organic Cannabis Association, I am aiming to further our message on a national scale so that other businesses that are as responsible as we are at L’Eagle can make a distinction for themselves, but more importantly for the consumer.
How are cultivators growing greener marijuana?
Amy: Before any growing takes places, cultivators should focus on environmentally friendly facility design. The design of an indoor commercial facility is one of the biggest factors in a cultivation business’s success, not to mention overall efficiency and plant health, regardless of the size of the operation.
As for the cultivation itself, utilizing agricultural best practices and a complete integrated pest management (more comprehensive than pesticides) process is key. Investing in innovative technologies for lighting (LED, Fluorescents, HPS) and HVAC systems (odor control, pest prevention) are also crucial. Watering and peak demand strategies should be taken into consideration. As for waste, cultivators should look for ways to recycle leftover plant material. At L’Eagle we’re committed to recycling and composting a majority of our soilless media with local farms.
L’Eagle is committed to stringent testing standards and 100 percent clean cannabis. How have people responded to this business model? Are people seeking out greener marijuana, or do they need to be convinced?
Amy: We hold high standards for what’s in our food, so why should we treat our cannabis any differently? We believe the same people who are conscious of what they choose to consume and the brands they choose to support will appreciate our philosophy for running an eco-friendly facility that produces clean cannabis.
Our long-time customers champion our message, but there is certainly a need to educate new consumers that they have a choice in how they select their cannabis products. They can be discerning and deserve transparency. We provide guests with resources that describe our growing methods, ingredients, and also share all test results.
What about the cannabis industry in general — are there ways for people to know they’re buying cleaner or more environmentally friendly weed?
Amy: In the absence of certification, it is up to cannabis customers to ask the right questions, be informed of cultivation practices, concentration chemicals, and trust the practices or the dispensary. There are a few specific questions consumers may want to clarify with their budtender:
- What kind of pesticides are used in cultivation? Synthetic or organic?
- How late into the flowering process are pesticides used?
- How long has the cannabis been cured?
- For edibles and concentrates, where was the trim sourced and can the dispensary verify the manner in which it was cultivated?
- What’s in the vape pens other than cannabis oil? What extraction method was used (butane, CO2 or alcohol) and what thinning agents are included? Terpenes or sirlene?
- What are the options for recycling cannabis packaging?
It seems like eco-friendly weed is still a concept in its infancy. What do you think the future holds?
Amy: The future of cannabis cultivation is bright. Our industry is growing and cultivation technologies are advancing at the speed of light. Every 12 to 18 months, cannabis companies are upgrading their systems because of the staggering innovation. What was useful in 2010 is nearly antiquated in 2017 — not just lighting, either. The modernization overhaul encompasses worker safety issues, fire suppression and egress; energy conservation through insulation and HVAC efficiency; and waste reduction of water and trash.
As more states come online, environmental advocates and green thinkers will have many opportunities to enter the cannabis space, conduct research and affect real change in setting the sustainability standard for a green industry that is growing even greener day by day.