The growing demand for both medical and recreational marijuana will have major implications for the cannabis industry. Increasing regulations will likely be implemented to prevent cannabis smoke and residues (APIs) from affecting children, youth, and the environment. To reduce environmental liability, cannabis cultivators should implement sound practices for cannabis waste disposal.
Demand for Medical Marijuana is Growing Rapidly
The global demand for medical marijuana has grown substantially owing to legalization in several countries and increased recognition of the health benefits of marijuana. The US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, in its 400 page report in 2017, looked at more than 10,000 scientific studies and found strong evidence for the positive effects of cannabis on chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and some symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
In Canada, the number of people registered to purchase medical cannabis from licensed producers has skyrocketed since the federal commercial-access program was introduced in June 2013. The most recent statistics from Health Canada show that at the end of July 2017, over 200,000 Canadians had signed up with licensed cannabis producers. According to The Canada Cannabis Report: 2018 Industry Outlook, the total market size of medical marijuana is projected to grow by 40% per year from C$0.6 billion to C$2.31 billion by the end of 2021.
Trend in Legalization of Recreational Cannabis
Canada officially legalized the recreational use of cannabis in October 2018, the second country in the world to do so (after Uruguay).
In the United States, marijuana is legal in most states but the majority only permit its use for medical purposes. Recreational marijuana use is currently permitted in 10 U.S. states, and more states will likely move towards legalization as public support for marijuana has been increasing and is at its all-time high. According to a 2018 survey, over 60% of Americans now support marijuana legalization. This is almost double the number of supporters in 2000.
Strict Waste Disposal Regulations for Cannabis Cultivators
The growth of the cannabis industry poses another problem: managing the enormous volume of plant waste generated from cultivation. Licensed medical cannabis cultivators in both the United States and Canada are required to adhere to strict regulations regarding the disposal of cannabis waste. If the operation is close to a municipality, the cannabis producer needs to be aware of any conflict between their municipal bylaws and provincial or federal legislation.
Most cultivators have attempted composting as a method to handle cannabis plant waste; however, composting can take months and requires substantial space, space that could be better used growing additional cannabis plants. Due to a lack of waste management alternatives, most cannabis cultivators rely on the mixing of plant waste with other waste and hauling to landfills, where greenhouse gas emissions like methane are generated. However, the environmental liability does not stop there. The presence of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) in the waste could lead to regulatory and environmental compliance risks.