Hotboxing the Polar Bear: The Energy and Climate Impacts of Indoor Marijuana Cultivation

22 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2021 Last revised: 5 Apr 2021

See all articles by Gina Warren

Gina Warren

University of Houston Law Center

Date Written: January 4, 2021


Indoor marijuana cultivation is currently legal --at least a some level-- in all but eight states in the United States. This Article explores the energy and climate harms caused by the budding industry and recommends that state regulators and public utility companies work together to ensure that those harms are mitigated. Indoor marijuana cultivation has an energy demand that rivals data centers. With energy intensities around 2,000 Watts per minute, it consumes between 50 and 200 times more than an average office building and 66 times more than an average home. And, given the lucrative nature of the industry and the movement toward legalization, its energy demand is projected to grow exponentially over the next several years. The problem is that this growth is exacerbating an already strained energy delivery system and increasing greenhouse gas emissions due to a fossil-fuel reliant grid. While moving cultivation outdoors would be the most effective way of reducing these harms, outdoor grows are prohibited or limited in many states and by the federal government. A small number of states and localities, however, have recognized the energy-related harms and are working to mitigate them through their licensing frameworks. This Article discusses California’s new requirement to limit energy intensity or to require carbon offset purchases, Massachusetts' and Illinois’ mandates for lighting efficiency, and Boulder, Colorado’s renewable energy requirements and carbon offset funds. While these regulatory requirements can result in significant out-of-pocket costs for indoor growers, this Article recommends all states that legalize indoor cultivation implement policies to address harms caused by overconsumption of fossil-fuel based energy. Furthermore, public utility companies can play a role in helping offset compliance costs and incentivizing best practices through push and pull policies that can provide incentives for energy-efficient technology, grants for studies to fully understand the industry’s energy demand and for individualized funding of energy efficient technology, and taxes or fees for overconsumption beyond a set baseline.

Keywords: marijuana, climate, energy, environment, utilities, electricity, sustainability

Suggested Citation

Warren, Gina, Hotboxing the Polar Bear: The Energy and Climate Impacts of Indoor Marijuana Cultivation (January 4, 2021). Boston University Law Review, Vol. 101, 2021, Available at SSRN: or

Gina Warren (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4104 Martin Luther King Blvd
Houston, TX 77204
United States
713-743-8404 (Phone)


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