LED Mandate in California Spotlights Indoor Grow Issue

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California wants all indoor cultivators to switch to LED lights by 2023, leaving some cannabis growers outraged.

In California, indoor cannabis growers are shining a light on a rule they say is unfair.

Earlier this summer, the California Codes and Standards Enhancement (CASE) program proposed that the California Energy Commission (CEC) require indoor cultivators to use only LED lights by 2023. The recommendation “drew the ire of many of the state’s indoor growers,” according to WeedWeek’s Willis Jacobson, with some going so far as to suggest that re-configuring their operation with LED lights would amount to starting from scratch.

While the CASE proposal was made with environmental considerations in mind, the potential impact it could have on indoor cannabis growers is undeniably substantial.

“Switching to LED lights,” Jacobson explains, “which are more expensive than the lower-efficiency lights commonly used in grows, would not only pose a significant financial burden on operators, but could also materially change the plants they produce. Compounding that, a report by the state’s energy department suggested that roughly 95% of the state’s indoor growers will be affected (the remainder already use LED lights).”

For Jerred Kiloh, owner of Higher Path MED Collective in Los Angeles and president of the United Cannabis Business Association, LED lights simply fail to produce plants of a similar quality to those he cultivates under high-intensity bulbs.

Speaking with Jacobson, Kiloh detailed that’s he spent portions of the past seven years experimenting with LED lights but without satisfactory results. He also called into question the lack of proven metrics detailing how a forced switch to LED for all indoor cultivators would definitively lead to a reduction in energy consumption.

“I realize we’re trying to reduce energy consumption,” Kiloh said, “but we don’t know what the unintended consequences are of just moving to LED lights.”

Another element in the discussion: what will be done to ensure equity operators are able to comply with such a requirement? The cost of buying the requisite LED lights alone, to say nothing of installation and maintenance, should, some argue, necessitate financial assistance on the part of the state if the least financially fortunate are to be given any chance of achieiving compliance.

Even in a situation where government dispensations were made to help all legal cultivators get outfitted with LEDs, it still fails to answers concerns centered on cultivation technique. Likewise, the scenario also creates added potential for illegal growers — who, by definition, will not be subject to any LED requirements — to further thrive.

Naturally, the reality of climate change and the need to rethink agricultural practices at the largest scales is one the cannabis industry must also face. That said, the question of whether indoor growing is worse for the environment than outdoor growing is actually a bit more complicated than one might imagine at first blush.

Even still, just as the environmental ramifications of indoor growing must be considered, the risks of wildfires and smoke damaging outdoor crops in California means either proposition comes with substantial risks. If anything is clear, it’s that a careful, well-researched approach must be employed when it comes to doing what’s right, both for the planet and for California’s indoor cultivators.

As Bob Gunn, founder of the Seattle energy consulting firm Seinergy, noted in an op-ed published by MarijuanaBizDaily, under the current CASE proposal, “all indoor agriculture would be affected, but the lion’s share of burden would fall on California’s important but already struggling legal cannabis industry, which relies heavily on indoor growing.”

In total, Gunn estimated the LED mandate could ultimately collectively cost growers as much as $255 million.

If that’s the cost necessary to ensure sustainable cannabis cultivation in California, so be it. But if such a price tag is unavoidable, it should come with answers to a multitude of important questions.

Among them: Who will pay for these LED lights? Will exceptions be made to ensure growing traditions are preserved? What research will be conducted to ensure the validity of the proposal before 95% of the state’s legal indoor cannabis growers are asked to completely up-end their operations?

Though the prospect of receiving answers to these queries remains unclear, it’s obvious that obtaining satisfactory solutions to this issue will require a bit more than simply flipping a switch.

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