The U.S. Medical Marijuana Industry: A Mind-Boggling Portrayal of Waste and Greed

Marijuana remains federally illegal in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped states such as California and Colorado from allowing it to be used for medicinal purposes. In the 33 states (plus D.C.) where you can get weed, it is expected that the Treasury’s coffers will soon overflow with money. In California for example, where recreational use is now permitted, it is hoped that marijuana tax income will exceed $1 billion per annum in the relatively near future.

It is an emerging industry, but in 2017 the marijuana market earned $9 billion, a figure like to reach $21 billion in 2021. Cannabis is also good for the job market. According to an analysis by BDS Analytics, over 121,000 people were employed in the industry in 2017, but it could employ close to 300,000 by 2021. There were almost 10,000 active licenses for cannabis businesses at the beginning of 2018, and the industry owed an estimated $1.4 billion in tax in 2017.

The naïve among you may believe legalization in these states is due to altruism. After all, there is an increasing number of studies which show marijuana’s potential medical benefits. In contrast, there are a handful of studies that claim weed increases opioid use. Such claims are based on a less than scientific reading of dubious data.

Alas, this is the United States of America, a country where it is possible to get away with almost anything if you are wealthy enough. For example, most research into crime shows that economic status plays a huge role in whether you are arrested, along with the length of any prison sentence.

Big Pharma Gets in On the Action

The fact that Big Pharma has decided to get involved should ring alarm bells. Since the foundation of these companies, it has been abundantly clear that they are all about profit before people. Back in the old days, firms such as Bayer sold heroin as medicine! Their objection to the legalization of weed is solely due to the adverse effect it will have on pharmaceutical sales.

We know that opioids are deadly, yet they are still easily available because physicians prescribe them like Skittles. There is a suggestion that medical marijuana could help wean people off opioids, terrible news for Big Pharma and owners of funeral businesses. As states continue to legalize cannabis, the pharmaceutical industry has adopted an “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude.

For example, the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first time the organization had ever approved a cannabis-based medicine. It was created by GW Pharmaceuticals and is designed for patients with epilepsy. Oddly enough, the FDA remains steadfast in its opposition to medical marijuana. While you can purchase enough medical marijuana to last a year for under $1,000, Epidiolex has an average list price of $32,500.

Greed Always Leads to Waste

One thing is for certain – where there is greed, there is always waste. How often do people pile too much food on their plate only to realize they have no chance of eating it all? In most cases, the leftovers go in the bin, a shocking waste of food in a world where so many people struggle to eat one meal a day.

Sadly, the rapid growth in the medical cannabis industry has resulted in excess growth of marijuana plants as companies try to maximize profits. The legacy of past and present illegal activity has also had a devastating impact on the environment. For example, the U.S Forest Service has reported that its officers have encountered thousands of acres of public land that were transformed into toxic waste dumps by the use of fungicides, pesticides, and other poisons used to grow weed illegally.

In fact, there have been occasions where officers have been sent to the hospital after touching a cannabis plant in one of these dumps. The toxicity renders the land unusable for decades, and also kills local wildlife, while the runoff kills fish.

Although advanced growing methods such as aeroponics and hydroponics are now utilized, outdoor growth drains resources. Experts suggest that marijuana plants need six gallons of water per day to thrive! In three illegal growing areas in California, law enforcement found up to 90,000 marijuana plants which used the equivalent of 540,000 gallons of water a day.

If you grow indoors and use lights, you place a great strain on your locality’s energy providers. In one report in Colorado in 2014, it was discovered that 1,200 legal growers used as much power as 35,000 households!

Disposing of Weed

It wasn’t so long ago that finding cannabis was a near-impossible mission. Fast forward to the modern era, and cultivators are trying TOO hard to supply millions of potential consumers; an issue made worse in states making the transition from medicinal to recreational legalization. In Washington state, for example, marijuana has generated plenty of revenue and a whole lot of waste. In a three-year period from 2014 to 2017, the state generated 1.7 million pounds of plant waste, enough to keep Snoop Dogg and his crew happy for an entire weekend.

“That’s okay because plant matter is organic and can be composted.” While that statement is undeniably true, it is also a sad fact that a significant amount of wasted weed in Washington ends up in landfills. For example, in Thurston County, less than 15% of cannabis producers are in contact with the county’s largest industrial compost hauler, LeMay Pacific Disposal. In Whatcom County, the local composter follows federal laws which means it doesn’t accept cannabis waste. This is a problem because the county generated 215,000 pounds of it in 2016.

Oregon has the same problem as weed production skyrocketed in anticipation of an uptick in demand. Unfortunately, demand has remained at a steady level which means an enormous excess of weed. Oregon has over 1,000 licensed growers, with another 1,000 close to obtaining a license.

By the middle of 2018, approximately one million pounds of usable marijuana remained unsold, over triple the amount of weed purchased in the whole of 2017. It is clear that too many people saw dollar signs and ignored the feasibility of striking it rich in the cannabis industry. At the time of writing, some sellers offer pre-rolled joints for around $1.

As it is federally illegal to transport weed across state lines, Oregon is stuck with a marijuana mountain. One suggestion is to donate cannabis to low-income patients, but such a program would be illegal at present. Again, there is no mention of any statewide composting program, which means hundreds of thousands of pounds of weed are being destroyed in a manner that compromises the local environment.

In California, July 1, 2018, was a day nicknamed ‘marijuana apocalypse.’ It was the day after the deadline for dispensaries to sell product that wasn’t up to code. On July 1, they had to destroy what was left – an estimated $350 million worth of weed! While the Golden State felt it was a necessary step to combat black market cannabis, it had no excuse for what happened next.

The state government ordered dispensaries to take care of disposal rather than sending special trucks to ensure the weed was composted or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. Even if every single dispensary composted flower, they also had to destroy vape cartridges. Disposal involved smashing the cartridges with a hammer before dumping them in a landfill.

Final Thoughts on Marijuana Greed & Waste

It is a sad fact that the human race can be depended on to take the good out of everything. Marijuana legalization was a major win, yet instead of growing it responsibly to ensure just enough demand, cultivators got greedy and grew far more than they could ever sell. Now we have an environmental headache as landfills become full with usable weed and ruined vape cartridges. To top it all off, we have Big Pharma muscling in, and we all know how that particular story ends.

One way to solve the problem of waste is to make marijuana federally legal. There would be no need to grow the plant in several states, because California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and numerous other states already have a surplus. With no federal law to forbid it, suppliers could transport their product to different states. However, this will never happen because people will see medicinal and recreational marijuana as a meal ticket, rather than as an opportunity to replace opioids.