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  Different Shades of Green - City Council Fails to Pass Sustainable Medical Marijuana Ordinance
September 16, 2011

There are clearly different shades of green on the Richmond City Council.

There are those greens who believe global climate change is truly a crisis that we must address at every level of government – and quickly. Then there are those for whom the green of cannabis eclipses the more global meaning of green. And finally, there is the green of money – lots of it – including tens of thousands of dollars from the cannabis industry that has found its way into some council members’ campaign coffers.

Failing to pass the sustainable marijuana ordinance was a disappointment for me. The Richmond City Council has been “high” on marijuana for some time, paving the way for three licenses that are now in the application stage. At least a couple of Council members want to increase that to four, on the theory that if three is good, four is better. At least one councilmember touts marijuana dispensaries as veritable police substations, making areas of Richmond in the vicinity of a dispensary the safest of all.

Now, I really don’t care who smokes weed or why they do it, other than minors, but I remain skeptical about the hypocritical institutionalizing of an industry that characterizes itself as the epitome of healthy living and natural holistic medicine when it is really mostly about money – lots of it.

I introduced the “green” marijuana ordinance after reading a paper, “Energy Up in Smoke, The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production,”  (April 5, 2011) by Evan Mills, Ph.D. a long-time energy analyst and Staff Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California.

Mills finds that indoor Cannabis production results in energy expenditures of $5 billion each year, with electricity use equivalent to that of 2 million average U.S. homes. This corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households. The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution (carbon dioxide, CO2 ) from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars. Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value.

In California, the top-producing state—and one of 17 states to allow cultivation for medical purposes—the practice is responsible for about 3% of all electricity use or 8% of household use. Due to higher electricity prices and cleaner fuels used to make electricity, California incurs 70% of national energy costs but only 20% of national CO2 emissions.

From the perspective of individual consumers, a single Cannabis cigarette represents 2 pounds of CO2 emissions, an amount equal to running a 100-watt light bulb for 17 hours with average U.S. electricity (or 30 hours on California’s cleaner grid). Each four-by-four-foot production module doubles the electricity use of an average U.S. home and triples that of an average California home. The added electricity use is equivalent to running about 30 refrigerators. Processed Cannabis results in 3000-times its weight in CO2 emissions. For off-grid production, it requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor Cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators.

The Richmond City Council has supported dozens of environmental initiatives designed to make Richmond a leader in sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction. For examples, see City of Richmond Environmental Initiatives.

But when being green bumped up against the different shade of green of the marijuana industry, pot clearly prevailed at the Richmond City Council. For the entire report on this agenda item, see: INTRODUCE an ordinance (first reading) amending Richmond Municipal Code Section 7.102.060 (concerning the operations of Medical Marijuana Collectives) to require Collectives operating within the city to obtain their marijuana from those who grow outdoors without artificial lights, or who grow indoors using only solar-powered artificial lighting - Vice Mayor Butt (620-6851).

Mayor McLaughlin and Jeff Ritterman supported the “green” marijuana ordinance, but it lost on a 3-1-2 vote.

In another agenda item, the City Council reversed an administrative decision by the Police Department to allow an applicant who missed a deadline for an application fee to continue to compete for one of the three coveted Richmond marijuana dispensary licenses. This is when it was suggested that going to four licenses would mitigate the impact on those applicants who filed on time.

Last year, I was the author of a measure to allow the voters to establish Richmond’s tax on medicinal marijuana sales at 10%, but the City Council knocked it back to 5%. That extra money would have hired more cops, paved streets and kept libraries open longer, but the Council was reluctant to erect too many barriers between a stoner and his medicine. At the same time, Sacramento and San Jose voters passed 10% taxes.

San Jose is reducing its dispensaries from an estimated 140 to just ten, creating a ratio of about one dispensary for each 50,000 people. Richmond now allows three, a ratio of one per 34,000 people. As I said before, some council members want to increase it to one per 26,000 people. There must be a lot more sick people in Richmond than in San Jose.

City council fails to pass sustainable medical marijuana ordinance

If the proposed ordinance was passed, Richmond collectives would have to prove that no artificial light was used during the marijuana growing process. (photo by Natalie Jones)
By: Derek Lartaud | September 14, 2011 – 2:11 pm
The City Council narrowly failed to pass an ordinance Tuesday that would have required the three medical marijuana collectives in Richmond to purchase their marijuana from suppliers that either grow their crop outside without the use of artificial light, or indoors with solar-powered light.
Councilmember Tom Butt introduced the ordinance, saying he only recently became aware of the potential environmental impact of growing and harvesting medical marijuana.
“I wasn’t aware of the magnitude, the impact of growing indoors,” Butt said. “It just blew me away.”
He credited his discovery to a research study conducted by Evan Mills, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. According to the study, the energy required by indoor facilities to grow and maintain medical marijuana is huge, accounting for 8 percent of California’s total household electricity usage and 1 percent nationwide.
In suggesting the ordinance, Butt said he understood it would likely be a contentious issue for the city’s medical marijuana collectives.
“The collectives are not going to like it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a fight between the purveyors of medical marijuana and those committed to sustainability.”
Ken Estes, owner of the Grand Daddy Purp collective located in Richmond’s Hilltop Mall, largely agreed with Butt’s more sustainable approach, but felt the timing wasn’t right.
“It takes a lot of money to convert to solar,” Estes said. “I do grow my indoor using solar. We should be sustainable. Sustainability is part of medical marijuana. I think this has to be thought out more.”
Butt’s proposed ordinance would have required that the collectives be able to produce documentation, on demand and at the request of the police, stating that the indoor marijuana was grown with solar-powered light. Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said that there were not proper procedures in place to secure this documentation, if such documentation existed. Councilmember Jovanka Beckles agreed, and asked for the ordinance to be considered at a later date, after the specifics were “tightened up.”
The ordinance’s most vocal opponent was Councilmember Corky Booze, who echoed concerns that there was no viable procedure to verify that a given crop of marijuana was grown using solar-powered light.
“I just don’t see how you’re going to be able to tell where they’re going to buy it from,” Booze said. “How do you figure that if we have the dispensaries and they are serving 800 people a day, how will we check on them?”
Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said he felt that if the ordinance was ever going to be adopted, it needed to happen now.
“I don’t really see the upside of not doing it,” Ritterman said. “Richmond has the best weather for growing crops, a lot of the farmers have told me. What if the city grew the marijuana and sold it to the dispensaries and we could use the money for whatever we wanted?”
Although the council ultimately voted 3-1 in favor, it failed to reach a required four-vote minimum and so the ordinance failed.  Councilmembers Butt and Ritterman and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin voted for it, Booze voted against it, Beckles and Councilmember Jim Rogers abstained, and Councilmember Nat Bates was absent.
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