Cannabis Sustainability: Hemp Perspectives

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AUTHOR: Heather Allman

In my previous Medics Series, I tackled the tip of the iceberg on this prescient issue facing cannabis companies across the states when I asked the question: “What about sustainability in the Florida cannabis industry?

On the topic of sustainability, Florida also currently lacks a dedicated patient or clinic “cannabis collection” station for used cannabis products; an integrated program for safe disposal here in Florida must be addressed, by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee or other dedicated state body. 

For example a patient-safe, secure system of cannabis disposal could operate within Florida in the same manner as the plethora of statewide “no questions asked” needle disposal/exchange programs currently offered to the general public.

Or similarly, a state cannabis collection program could operate county or city-wide, like the popular unused or expired medication collections that occur on a regular basis throughout the United States in an effort to keep these pharmaceuticals out of national public water supplies.

I also offered a unique solution to both Florida’s burgeoning medical cannabis and hemp markets,  suggesting that “In future years, the state could link together the Hemp and Cannabis divisions which currently operate separately under the Florida Department of Agriculture purview. A progressive move such as this would provide Commissioner Nikki Fried’s ambitious “Fresh From Floridahemp industry into a sustainable future provider of cannabis product packaging.

Perhaps the state of Florida could formulate a regulated education program while waiting for their hemp return to harvest.


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Strains & products

Is Hemp the Best Alternative to Synthetic Materials?”

Hemp vs. Cotton: 3 Reasons Why Cotton is Not King (and Why Hemp Should Be) focuses on industrial hemp’s advantages over cotton, another natural fiber. Synthetics are inherently worse than any natural fiber.

In the last century, natural fibers have been replaced by synthetics to a great extent. Although attractive because of their low price, mass production, and customization, synthetic fibers are petroleum-based, non-biodegradable, non-renewable, and result in toxic waste products. While they may be cheap to produce, there are hidden costs to both our health and our Earth.

The fastest growing segment of synthetic fiber consumption is polyester, with a recorded demand of 55.2 million tons in 2014. The production and disposal of it contributes to an array of environmental problems. Perhaps worst of all, petrochemical textiles have hurt hard-working American farmers. Unlike natural fibers, synthetics are not grown, they’re extracted from deep in the Earth, removing the farmer from the equation.

Conversely, hemp is renewable, biodegradable, and beneficial to the environment. Hemp fibers have some of the strongest mechanical properties of all natural fibers. Additionally, hemp materials can be used in thousands of applications, ranging from incredibly strong ropes to luxuriously comfortable fabrics, from bottles to building materials. Hemp can even be converted into biofuels to power the mills that use it.

With new energy extraction technology such as fracking, the supply of hydrocarbons is considered by some to be infinite. Clearly, that cannot be the case — sooner or later, oil will become scarce and natural fiber options will be more highly valued. Why not put American farmers to work to grow sustainable natural fiber crops now?

As people turn away from synthetics, their first inclination is to turn to cotton. Although we support all natural fibers over synthetics, we stand by our assertions that hemp is superior to cotton and trust that one day hemp will be the fabric of the future.”

© 2019 Leafly

In August 2019, Andre Bourque agreed in principle with his persuasive perspective on The Cannabis Sustainability Inquiry: Could Marijuana And Hemp Offer The Solution To The World’s Toughest Environmental, Social, And Economic Problems?

As a nascent (legal) consumer industry, the cannabis industry has a chance to invent itself from the ground up in the image of modern-day social, economic, and environmental sustainability. In this on-going series, I will share global examples, perspectives, and practices of cannabis companies, organizations, and advocates advancing this charter.

In March 2020 the United Nations is set to vote on what may be the termination of a half-Century of Treaty ban on Cannabis medicines. The World Health Organization is actively in the process of unprecedented scientific assessment of Cannabis, cannabinoids and Cannabis derivatives to begin to separate global stigma of the plant from the potential, its truly untapped medicinal, health-oriented public benefits.

At the same time cannabis reform comes to the world stage under a new vantage point, the plant itself has the potential to be revealed as fundamental basis for modern-day social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Combining the elemental layout of the traditional sustainability model in a Venn diagram with an overlay of early cannabis (which includes hemp) industry practices, research, and theory demonstrates the ability for the industry to meet some, if not all sustainability objectives. 

In short, hemp and marijuana could very well have an even greater impact in the fight for a global sustainable future far beyond just within the industry itself. In a written interview, Derek Smith, Executive Director of the Resource Innovation Institute, offered a definition of sustainability in the cannabis industry as, “Any use of the term sustainability should reflect a deep commitment by a company or industry to approach a triple bottom line with quantifiable goals and a vision of advancing social, environmental and economic systems within which we all exist.”

  • Global Marijuana And Hemp Sustainability Advocacy

At the local and international level, people are trying to bring together sustainability activists and cannabis activists to get the message show how they are mutually beneficial industries. One such group is the For Alternative Approaches to Addiction Think & do tank, or FAAAT for short.

The FFAAT’s Cannabis & Sustainable Development Report argues that “Cannabis’ placement in international law was done in the absence of scientific evaluation. As a consequence, its derived stigmas have provided the basis for a morality driven war on drugs for many decades. Because of its characteristics, widespread cultivation and use, and the diversity of its applications, the FAAAT report states “the Cannabis Sativa L. plant and related policies directly pertain to at least 64 of the 169 targets among the 15 out of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”


Cannabis & Sustainable Development. A comprehensive contemporary address of #Cannabis and #hemp policies.

In this sprawling report, the group outlines the connection between cannabis and its impact on the UN’s goals for sustainable development, including (but not limited to):

Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere

Ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition

Sustainable agricultural practices

Reducing inequality

Promoting peace, justice, human rights, rule of law, and strong institutions

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not only a roadmap for policies and policymakers: they are also strongly engaging for all strata of society and all stakeholders, Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, co-founder of the French NGO NORML France and of the think-tank FAAAT, told me in a written interview. “It is a well-established principle that sustainable development cannot be achieved by governments alone and requires the active participation of all people…[with a] framework for shared action to be implemented by, ‘all countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership.’”

To help achieve these goals, the global cannabis industry needs to recognize and promote the full potential of hemp and marijuana towards creating a sustainable future with active public-private and civil society-government partnership and co-operation. And while it isn’t fair to place all of the onus for sustainability on cannabis alone, cannabis is uniquely positioned to “reduce waste and harm in every sector” for a variety of reasons.

One of the biggest is hemp, which can be used to make alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, paper, and cotton fabrics. Petroleum-based plastics takes hundreds of thousands of years to decompose, while hemp-based bioplastics can break down in six months. This is a global supply chain problem with universal environmental and social impacts. And Because these SDGs engage all people, Riboulet-Zemouli stressed this as an example of where governments’ roles stop, and where the private sector’s hand gets tied.

“This is the role of civil society organizations, communities, and in particular the scientific community: monitoring legal regulations by establishing sustainability metrics that guide legal regulations while prioritizing positive impact on the ground, both in terms of societies and human systems than in terms of ecosystems,” Riboulet-Zemouli said. “Making the cannabis industry part of the solution, not an added problem in our unprecedented global challenges.”

Extensive use of hempcrete in construction also has the potential to be transformative, I learned in conversations with Klara Marosszeky from the Australian Hemp Masonry Company. “Hemp fibre production because of the density of planting and the varieties that can be grown, harvests carbon faster than most if not all other agricultural crops. Harvesting and locking that biomass up in buildings is one of the most effective and least risky ways of managing emissions and storing carbon,” she explained.

As Marosszeky explained, hemp production also lends itself to the development of regional economies, cottage industries and small scale manufacturing just as well as it lends itself to large scale manufacture. “Regions could grow the biomass for their housing and build themselves carbon-neutral community housing and they could produce better body care products, better food products, better and safer home furnishings at the same time,” she said.

  • What Is Sustainable In Today’s Cannabis Marketplace?

Uruguay was the first country ever to legalize cannabis, placing Latin America as one of the first global regions to begin to evolve sentiment around cannabis. Consistent with the cannabis legalization by regional influence via the Tide Effect theory I wrote about in 2018, other Latin American countries including Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina began loosening regulations regarding cannabis as well. And in 2017, Colombian-based PharmaCielo Ltd. established what was, at the time, the highest environmental and sustainability standards for medical grade cannabis cultivation and processing.

“Mapping the environmental footprint of current and planned operations will provide PharmaCielo Ltd. (OTC: PHCEF) (TSXV:PCLO) with the ability to quantify overall resource demands of all stages of cannabis cultivation and production life cycle, including waste production and management, nutrient use, energy consumption, water use, byproducts, etc. against alternative growth and production methods,” said the company’s President and CEO, Dr. Patricio Stocker, at the time. That type of standout commitment has helped set the precedent for what other cannabis companies can strive to match.

In the United States, California has long been at the epicenter of cannabis and the forefront of the climate change fight, making it an ideal place to create a sustainable cannabis industry. The Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), which oversees the cannabis industry in California, has many regulations in place aimed at the promotion of sustainable cultivation. In fact, most of the environmental regulations surrounding the cannabis industry are aimed at the cultivation stage, with everything from water quality to pesticide use and waste discharge being scrutinized. For many, these regulations can be costly, costing cultivators upwards of $40,000-$60,000 on analysis and reports yearly.

Cultivators like Sparx Cannabis from Monterey County in Northern California are going all-in on sustainable cultivation. In their 100,000 square foot cultivation space, Sparx is adopting super-efficient, state-of-the-art drying containers and growing it all with fully-solar powered, full-spectrum, low energy LED lighted greenhouses–a pioneering industry move. The company is purifying contaminated ground water from years of agricultural contamination, and has established soil recycling, organic biological pest control, and the colonization of beneficial insects as part of its standard operating procedures.

SPARX has future sustainability goals to recycle all green waste matter and repurpose (stalks and stems as recyclable textiles, using leaves) for salves and tinctures, and a commitment to collect and redistribute excess water within its operations. Sustainability strategies like these that transcend the BCC’s environmental regulations are important and welcome in environmentally-conscious California.

Cannabis industry sustainability not only means solar power and fewer pesticides, but it also means fewer single use plastics and closed loop systems to minimize waste. This has led to a growth in environmentally friendly packaging development. There’s somewhat of a consciousness by core cannabis consumers in tune with honoring the nature of the plact to develop and use packaging that is recyclable, biodegradable, and/or compostable.

To that tune, The Hemp Plastic Company in Colorado is developing efficient technologies to turn industrial hemp into a plastic-like polymer that can be used as packing material for cannabis products. Another company, Sana Packaging, uses their plant-based packaging to do the same.

In Canada, where crop growing is all indoors, one company has ventured into the more environmentally and economically sustainable way to cultivate, outdoors. This past May, British Columbia-based Good Buds Company, Inc. was issued the first outdoor cultivation license issued by Health Canada. Not only does outdoor cultivation reduce capital and production costs versus indoor or greenhouse-grown crops, it decreases the carbon footprint left by, what they’re calling, “indoor synthetic cannabis cultivation.”

These are merely a handful of examples. As I evolve this series, we’ll take a look at further examples, and begin to examine metrics and measures of their anticipated impact. Bringing more visibility and insight into the developing theory that marijuana and hemp (cannabis) could become a global-shifting blessing to social, economic, and environmental considerations currently way out of balance. 

  • In Time for 2030?

The final declaration in the UN Agenda, number 91 states, “We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to achieving this Agenda and utilizing it to the full to transform our world for the better by 2030.” With the willingness of policymakers, perhaps cannabis can be the forgotten sacred plant rediscovered just in time to meet that goal.

Keep an eye out for this on-going Profiles in Cannabis Sustainability series to shed light on developments and examples of the role cannabis and hemp may have in global sustainability.

A special thanks to Hana Gabrielová, CEO of Czech company, Hempoint (developer of hemp products, farming and seeds, research and development, and consulting), for introducing me to the FAAAT study at California’s Emerald Cup Conference & Expo. 

Andre Bourque is a cannabis industry connector, executive advisor to several cannabis companies, brand strategy advisor, and a cannabis industry analyst.

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