As a social worker in Colorado working in child welfare with dependency and neglect cases I often see issues of drug abuse. However in general being a social worker in Colorado pot is simply not viewed the same as other states around the country for instance Illinois where I grew up. Marijuana does effect the economy, the families and communities in Colorado in a variety of ways. However there is one question no one seems to be discussing as much as the tax and regulatory hot topics showcased with popular, national, and local media coverage.
That question is how does marijuana farming effect the environment? This question needs consideration in order for us to grasp the environmental challenges we face in Colorado and to know if there is a real environmental impact from farms growing marijuana. As social workers, we believe in core values and maintain a strong passion to help others, all the time maintaining strong integrity within our profession. Within that sphere is the idea and pursuit of social justice. If the environment surrounding Colorado citizens is impacting the health and safety of local communities, then it is our job as social workers to protect the population from becoming victims of their environment. As Colorado citizens we need to get down to the facts of how this new industry might be impacting our environment. As a member of Garfield County I am beginning to advocate for myself and my neighbors. With the ethical principles of social work in my mind such as the values of social justice. As a community member I am putting my money where my mouth is and supporting businesses that (1) are minimizing their carbon footprint. (2) Businesses that utilize renewable sources of energy leaving the local communities at peace an in harmony with the local environments. (3) As well businesses that are creating jobs and bettering the local economy with environmentally conscious projects.
The damage from marijuana comes in a more familiar form than you would expect…pesticides. Pesticides according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “can be used to control a variety of pests, such as insects, weeds, rats and mice, bacteria and mold and more.”
According to the International Business Times marijuana farmers in remote areas, often end up destroying local creeks and other water sources or using pesticides to keep their plants healthy, which can damage the surrounding environment. Marijuana farmers hurt water sources by applying pesticides on marijuana crops to help keep their plants healthy. According to the EPA this like any other use of pesticides has a negative effect on the local environment.
The general perception expressed by Colorado residents interviewed on the streets of Carbondale, CO was that marijuana was produced by environmentally friendly farmers and most likely kind natured ‘hippies’. This is not an accurate stereotype as growing marijuana is big business in Colorado. These businesses have successfully created large, sophisticated growing operations reminiscent of farming institutions in the Midwest.
According to the EPA moving these large farms indoors creates added environmental issues resulting from the large amount of energy required to power the lamps used to help grow the marijuana crop. Growing marijuana indoors requires “high-energy lighting and air regulation that consumes energy at a much higher rate than average household consumption.” Evan Mills an authority in energy consumption, is a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a consultant for Energy Associates, writes “the lights are similar to those found in a hospital operating room and the air is changed 60 times as often as in an ordinary home”.
As a Colorado citizens, we like our schools and communities receiving the lucrative tax income from this new industry. But are the citizens of Roaring Fork Valley thinking about the potential negative environmental issues the local community may face? Next time a new marijuana store is petitioning local city councils to open a business, maybe we should begin to ask more questions. Questions like “What steps will your company and grow operation be taking to minimize negative environmental impact to the local community?”