Global Warming and Marijuana Legalization

Indoor Growing Electricity Consumption – Marijuana eradication efforts have also pushed many growers indoors, where they run up massive electric bills on lighting, fans and air filters. A single standard grow house is estimated to consume 20 times as much as an average household. In California alone, electricity used for marijuana cultivation is estimated at 3% of the state’s total.

Opposition to Electricity Record-keeping Illegal indoor marijuana growers have blocked California's efforts to disclose information about household electricity use. Since law enforcement routinely uses electricity consumption to find indoor marijuana grow sites, growers vigorously oppose California's efforts to increase the transparency of electricity use at the household level. Researchers have determined that while the majority of the public supports increased transparency, growers have blocked these efforts.


Global Warming and the War on Drugs

In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, for his work in alerting the world to the imminent threat of global climate change and his motion picture, An Inconvenient Truth. Gore argues that the people of the world have a moral duty to stop this climate change. The thrust of his analysis is the introduction of "greenhouse" gases through the use of hydrocarbon fuels is leading to an increase in the average temperature of the planet. This is most dramatically observed in the melting of glaciers and polar ice.

News about the climate change, as well as the human impact on it, is now posted in many major media websites, and has now been accepted by over 97% of all climate scientists, according to NASA.

But even if we heed Gore's advice and reduce our carbon emissions, we will not solve the problem in itself. In October 2007, the United Kingdom's Prince Charles addressed the World Wildlife Federation and noted that rainforests, such as that of the Amazon, are the natural "thermostats" that "regulate our a degree that is all but impossible to imagine."

On October 29, 2007, Prof. James Lovelock told the Royal Society that even stopping the growth in the emission of greenhouse gases will be inadequate to stop global climate change because the computer models of climate change focus on greenhouse gases to the exclusion of deforestation and other factors.

But destruction of the Amazon rainforest continues. Between 2000 and 2010, deforestation claimed an area the size of the United Kingdom. Experts at the Nature Conservancy of Brazil attribute a large part of the Amazon deforestation to soybean cultivation.

However, the U.S. Department of State attributed 25 percent of all Amazon deforestation in the 20th Century to coca cultivation - some 2.3 million hectares, according to Rand Beers, then Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. National Geographic shows a similar trend in recent years.

The leaves of the coca bush (not to be confused with the cocoa tree which produces the beans from which cocoa and chocolate are extracted) are gathered and processed to produce cocaine.

According to U.S. government estimates, the United States consumes at least 300 metric tons of cocaine annually, sold at retail for about $30 billion. According to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) prepared every Spring by the U.S. Department of State, coca was cultivated on about 83,000 hectares in Colombia alone in 2011. While it had seen a decline, the number is still extremely large, and does not include areas in other countries.

In 2005, Colombian authorities with U.S. financial and technical support, eradicated 170,000 hectares that could have yielded 15 metric tons worth $15 billion. In addition, the U.S. reported that seizures of refined cocaine in 2005 totaled 329 metric tons.

What do these facts mean?

First, the global coca growers need to grow much more coca than necessary to meet demand because perhaps 55 percent of refined cocaine is seized before it reaches the market. In addition, more coca needs to be grown in anticipation that fields will be detected and eradicated before the coca can be harvested and processed into cocaine.

So enforcement strategy has the effect of increasing coca cultivation far more than is necessary to supply the market. 

Second, once a coca field is detected and eradicated, the likelihood that it will be eradicated again if again planted with coca is extremely high. Fields are abandoned, and new fields are cut out of the forest to avoid detection.

Third, the factor that appears to be most important in driving the creation of new coca fields (and deforestation) is the international cocaine control policy of field eradication and product interdiction and seizure.

The number of persons who use cocaine in the U.S. has declined since the 1980s. But the total volume of consumption - exceeding 300 metric tons - is six times greater than cocaine imports were in 1980.

In Colombia especially, the production of cocaine finances military and civil insurrection and chaos. Many of the persons and families displaced by the long civil war and domestic terrorism in Colombia have resorted to coca cultivation to survive.

It is incontrovertible that U.S. and global anti-drug strategy supports the prices for cocaine and coca leaf above other market factors by attempting to create scarcity. The policy, by destroying coca fields whereever they can be found, has led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of hectares of new fields that have been carved out of the Amazon rainforest. The anti-drug policy encourages and drives the deforestation. If all of the world's cocaine supply could be provided by 350,000 hectares of coca, the only reason that 2 million additional hectares have been cleared to grow coca, is in response to the eradication of fields already cut out of the forest.

If the cocaine suppression program has been successful in reducing the deaths from drug use, the crimes of petty criminal drug users, and the violence of the drug trade, then the environmental consequences of rainforest destruction may be an appropriate cost-benefit trade off. That assumes that the costs of rainforest destruction are being calculated.

However, the cocaine suppression policies of the United Nations and its member states are ineffectual at meeting their goals in the United States.

  • In the U.S. the death rate from illegal drugs has more than tripled since 1980, and cocaine was the leading drug in 2003 illicit drug-related deaths.
  • Drug-caused hospital emergency room visits have doubled since 1986, and in 2009, cocaine was the drug involved in 422,896 ER visits, more than any other illegal substances (excluding non-medical use of pharmaceuticals).
  • Murder and other major crimes have declined nationwide, if not in a number of major cities.
  • Young people report the cocaine and other drugs are more readily available now than their peers reported in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2010, more than one out of every three American high school seniors reported that they can get cocaine easily, according to the annual Monitoring the Future study.

For the United States, our drug policy has failed as a policy promoting drug control, public health and public safety. Would the drug problem in the U.S. be worse if we stopped destroying existing coca fields in the Amazon? Would coca-field driven deforestation of the Amazon stop if we stopped our coca eradication? calls upon scientists and Members of Congress to look deeply and broadly at global drug control programs and their myriad unintended consequences. When well-intentioned laws and policies create incentives that contribute to global climate change that is likely to be catastrophic, those laws and policies must be carefully examined. If those laws and policies are not effective, then they ought to be repealed. If those laws and policies are effective, the benefits they provide must be compared to the negative environmental consequences they create. If the benefits the laws and policies create are not greater than the environmental catastrophe they are contributing to, again, those laws and policies must be repealed.

Solving the problem of global climate change is going to be difficult and will involve sacrifices across the globe and the examination of numerous assumptions that underlie modern life. Anti-drug policy cannot be immune from that examination.