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Authors share water policy recommendations and recent data that contrasts with oft-cited statistics

Portland, Ore. (Dec 9, 2020 )Resource Innovation Institute Executive Director Derek Smith previewed the forthcoming Cannabis Water Report as part of MJBizCon’s 2020 Associations Day on Tuesday, Dec. 1. The presentation provided information about past and current cannabis cultivation water usage and shared a sneak peek of proposed conservation benchmarks that will be relevant to cultivators, industry leaders, supply chain members, policymakers and media representatives.

Water is a critical component of the cannabis industry, used for treatment, storage, fertigation and other non-cultivation activities like heating and cooling processes, fogging for humidification, pest-management, cleaning activities and more. The expansion of legal markets and increased consumer demand has driven huge cannabis production surges and increased water needs.

“We live in an era of climate change where droughts are increasingly common,” Smith said. “A significant portion of cannabis cultivation is located in Western states, which will continue to be affected by water scarcity. It has never been more important to understand how our industry can improve efficiency. Previously, a lack of data stymied efforts to quantify water usage, but the transition to legal production provides a unique opportunity to establish new standards and key performance indicators that will help us do better in the future.”

Whereas old data and press narratives based on the illicit market represented cannabis as an extremely “thirsty” crop, the new report notes that the regulated, legalized cannabis industry uses significantly less water than other major agricultural crops in California including cotton, tomatoes, wheat, and corn.

“A portion of our research was focused on understanding why cannabis had received such notoriety as a water-intensive crop,” said Christopher Dillis, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center. “We need to educate people about what is happening now, in the legal industry, and separate that from the old narrative around the illicit industry. The report reveals that water use practices are highly diverse in the new regulated cannabis industry, and we hope that this new data leads to well-tailored regulatory policies that are responsive to this diversity.”

The report also establishes that it is nearly impossible to normalize water usage per plant because it can vary so widely between indoor and outdoor cultivation, and depending upon location, growing techniques and other factors. As such, the report recommends that evaluation of future cannabis water efficiency be based upon canopy square footage, not plant count, as it has in the past. 

A partnership between Resource Innovation Institute, New Frontier Data, Berkeley Cannabis Research Center and members of RII’s Water Working Group, the full Cannabis Water Report is scheduled to be published in February 2021 and will establish a scientific understanding of how, and how much, water is used for cannabis cultivation. It will provide cultivators with insights, clarity and strategic recommendations for how to be more water-efficient, and ensure industry leaders, governments and media are accurately informed about the range of water practices in today’s dynamic and highly regulated cannabis market. 

To learn more about the 2021 Cannabis Water Report findings or to schedule an interview with Smith, please contact Shawna Seldon McGregor at 917-971-7852 or


Resource Innovation Institute: Advancing Resource Efficiency to Cultivate a Better Cannabis Future

Resource Innovation Institute (RII) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to advance resource efficiency to cultivate a better cannabis future. Founded in 2016 in Portland, OR, USA, RII’s Board of Directors includes the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a former board member of the US Green Building Council and leading cannabis industry players. Its Cannabis PowerScore benchmarking platform represents the world’s largest dataset on cannabis energy use. RII’s Technical Advisory Council is the leading multi-disciplinary body assessing the environmental impacts and best practices associated with cultivation resource issues. RII’s Efficient Yields cultivation workshops are the only grower-led, non-commercial venues for the exchange of resource efficient cultivation best practices. RII is funded by utilities, foundations, governments and industry leaders. Visit our website at Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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