This project was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving top college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
Chuck Lyon lives in a house he built “one concrete slab at a time” in the hills of Mendocino County, California.
Lyon, 62, only uses about five gallons of well water each day, including the 1.5 gallons it takes for him to take what he called “navy showers.” The average American uses more than 16 times that amount each day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
And when it comes to irrigating his garden, which includes six marijuana plants just a few steps off the front porch of his home, he takes it a step further. Lyon captures about 60,000 gallons of rainwater in massive silos each year and uses that to water his cannabis.
“Without water, I’m nothing. Without water, this planet’s nothing,” said Lyon, who can legally grow medical marijuana under California’s system. “I don’t waste water. I don’t plunder water. To plunder water, that’s a crime against nature.”
Lyon grows his pot in the “Emerald Triangle,” one of the largest cannabis-producing regions in the country. Although Lyon tries to leave little impact, the area around him highlights some of marijuana’s negative effects on the environment. Marijuana can require massive amounts of water, and growers have often left behind toxic chemicals, trash and scars on the land. Growing indoors can use excessive amounts of energy, which costs large sums of money and eats up resources.
Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have approved marijuana for medical use, with Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District, legalizing recreational pot as well. At least a dozen other states may vote on legalization initiatives in the 2016 election.
Jesse Peters, owner of Eco Firma Farms near West Linn, Oregon, said the fears concerning the impact of the marijuana industry as it expands are fears any industry should address.
“Call centers need to be more sustainable. Mills need to be more sustainable. Cannabis farms needs to be more sustainable,” he said. “There’s more and more people being added to this planet. We’re putting more and more stress on the planet as a whole. We shouldn’t create any new industries to add to that stress.”