The state's pot consultant, a firm called BOTEC Analysis, takes its name from "back of the envelope calculation." This is supposed to be academic humor, but in the case of a recent report produced by the California researchers, the acronym is all too fitting.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board contracted with BOTEC to help review the environmental impacts of regulating the cannabis industry, paying $14,000 for the study. The resulting report focuses on energy use as the primary environmental concern, recommends the state allow outdoor growing—which the liquor board now plans to do, thankfully—and repeatedly singles out indoor cannabis cultivation for environmental criticism, going so far as to recommend a carbon tax on indoor pot amounting to about nine cents per gram.
But the report, released in early July, also makes dubious claims about indoor pot, saying it is water-intensive and employs pesticides while failing to mention that outdoor production has the same issues.
What stood out most to me was the report's claim that mercury-containing lightbulbs used for indoor growing "are not recyclable." According to environmental officials, that is not true. "They're recyclable," confirms Department of Ecology spokeswoman Kathy Davis, who referred me to a Seattle recycler.
"We recycle 100 percent of it—the glass, the aluminum, the mercury," says Mike O'Donnell with EcoLights Northwest. "It's an erroneous statement, whoever made it."
That erroneous statement seems to originate from activists who lobbied the liquor board to allow outdoor pot growing. In a PowerPoint presentation, the Okanogan Cannabis Association criticized indoor gardens. BOTEC apparently took the bulb recycling information from this document.
"Probably one of my research assistants came up with that," speculates UC Berkeley professor Michael O'Hare, the report's lead author. "If that's wrong, then we'll fix it and say they are recyclable."
The BOTEC report also says that "in Northern California, water used for indoor cultivation contributes to pollution in local streams." What's the source of that information? A news article that's actually about outdoor grow operations, not indoor.
Indoor pot growing certainly does have environmental consequences, but when paying thousands of taxpayer dollars for environmental research, let's get our facts straight.