Deep Green Festival Addresses the Environmental Paradox of Pot

Organizers envision a responsible, sustainable pot culture.

The Coup, Heavyweight Dub Champion, MC Yogi, and a handful of Bay Area DJs will entertain about three to five thousand cannabis activists and fans expected to gather on Saturday, April 23, at The Craneway Pavilion in Richmond for a different kind of pot party.

The first ever Deep Green Festival — co-sponsored by Earth Dance — combines dope entertainment, a VIP vapor room, panels on ecology and legalization, and an exhibition of green cultivation techniques this weekend. Organizer Michael Gosney of the Green Center Institute says Deep Green Festival is part of a reimagining of cannabis’ often negative image. The event is designed to supplant the clichéd pictures of youngsters smoking six-foot joints on 4/20 and, “in the context of Earth Day, really take a close look at cannabis, and try to get beyond the political and public relations limitations that have been put on us.”

Such a re-imagining starts with the choice of the Craneway Pavilion venue itself. Bay Area pot conventions usually take place at the Cow Palace in Daly City — a venue tainted by near-annual deaths of ravers during ecstasy-fueled parties. Representing a less acrid vision for the maligned plant, Craneway Pavilion is bathed in natural light from copious skylights. The former Ford factory has an airy lightness enhanced by its location along the glimmering San Francisco Bay.

“Our environment is the opposite of the dark, seedy Cow Palace,” Gosney said. “It’s very high-end, it’s respectable, and it has been completely refurbished in a multimillion-dollar development effort. It’s all LEED-certified and features solar power.”

The location will enhance, not undermine, the programming, which will include Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee, who will likely generate fireworks on a legalization panel with more radical Sacramento reformer Michael Jolson. Lee’s Proposition 19 lost with 46.3 percent of the vote last year. Multiple competing initiatives will be back in 2012.

David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps will discuss “The Miracle and Challenge of Industrial Hemp” on a panel with other hemp industrialists. The federal government prohibits the plant’s cultivation in America, even though advocates say it can replace cotton and other crops as a less ecologically damaging food, fuel, and fiber. A hemp cultivation bill wends its way through Sacramento right now, and faces decent odds of being signed by Governor Jerry Brown, Gosney said.

The “Cannabis Cultivation: Low Carbon, High Organic” panel should be well-attended. It’ll touch upon a hot topic in pot right now: the ecological cost of indoor marijuana farming. In early April, an energy analyst at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory independently estimated the carbon cost of indoor pot-growing at 1 percent of all US electricity usage.

Prohibition has effectively taken a solar-powered crop and put it on a coal, gas, and nuclear-powered grid, just as the world begins to confront global warming and seek new energy efficiencies.

Harborside Health Center founder and Deep Green co-sponsor Stephen DeAngelo said that despite deep discounts for outdoor-grown marijuana, four out of five of his customers prefer indoor due to its “bag appeal” — the sight of shiny, white, crystalline, and unweathered buds. Over the last ten years, cannabis culture has inadvertently manufactured a market of shallow weed aesthetes.

Even musician Ziggy Marley, son of Bob Marley, told Legalization Nation last week, “I’m a outdoor guy, man. Cannabis is being manipulated a little too much for my taste. People are trying to get more out of [pot] than nature intended it to be. Don’t tinker with nature.”

In-house calculations at Harborside indicate that one pound of indoor requires burning about two hundred pounds of coal to produce. Yet California cities and entire states are mandating the plant be grown inside, including the entire state of Arizona.

“It’s insane. Is anything crazier than requiring people in the state of Arizona to bring cannabis indoors, away from the sun, burn very precious energy in lighting it up, and burn even more precious energy to keep it cool from the heat being generated by the lighting?” DeAngelo asked.

Outdoor-grown pot can be just as damaging, said Chris Van Hook, a Crescent City attorney with a BA in environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara. Van Hook founded the Clean Green Certified Agriculture Program, sort of like an eco-smog-check for pot farms in California, and has seen firsthand the devastation wrought by outdoor.

Farmers in the rural hills will divert water from wildland streams to grow pot patches, then add toxic fertilizers to the soil and spray pesticides to battle infestation. Farmers pay no taxes or abatement for the damage they do, he said.

“Both sides are at fault,” said Van Hook. “The outdoor cannabis industry in Mendocino and Southern Humboldt County has had huge environmental impacts over the last 35 years. Nothing is as simple as it seems.”

Including the solution. Van Hook, DeAngelo, and others are seeing a new move to light-assisted greenhouses. Such structures protect plants from the weather while using the sun’s rays, augmented by solar-powered LED lights. A few of those solutions will be on display at Deep Green, Gosney said.

As full legalization inevitably approaches and capitalists circle, cannabis risks becoming yet another foul, corporate, factory-farming activity, Van Hook said.

“It has to be a concern to all of us,” added DeAngelo. “We are never going to win public acceptance if our community is perceived as doing harm.”

Seeds & Stems

Oakland’s plans to permit and tax cultivation remain stalled in City Hall. Lawyers were supposed to outline options for moving forward last month, but that has yet to occur.


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