Michigan struggles to keep marijuana ‘green’


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With Michigan’s marijuana industry gearing up to become a major source of agricultural income, the environmental impact is becoming clearer.

For many who jumped into the business either looking for big profits or because they are fans of pot, getting a license to operate is only the first step.

“It’s a business or an industry that a lot of people are eager to get into, and you’re perhaps getting into it faster than knowing all what you’re getting into,” said Kyle Konwinski, a partner at Varnum LLP who represents clients in the marijuana industry.

He said the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (formerly the Department of Environmental Quality) is keeping an eye on the industry.

“There is a verbal memorandum of understanding between our environmental agency and the marijuana regulatory agency,” Konwinski said.

A 2018 report by the state listed the impacts of medical marijuana cultivation and processing on air quality, land and water use, and wastewater discharge. It says Michigan is already seeing adverse effects.

“The (state environmental agency) must work to ensure that this emerging industry does not threaten the quality of Michigan’s air, water, or land resources,” the report reads in part.

“Growing and processing marijuana can be water intensive. The state estimates it takes up to six gallons of water per plant per day,” EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg said. “That involves nutrient and chemical runoff from pesticides and fertilizers that could potentially impact wetlands and waterways if they’re not properly managed.”

>>Inside woodtv.com: Marijuana in Michigan

In cities, there are regulations about the amount of wastewater discharged into a sewer system. There are also state regulations for wetlands and anything within 1,000 feet of a body of water that will trigger an EGLE permitting process.

The standard waste products of marijuana growth — stems, leaves and seeds — are not hazardous. Greenberg said that means producers must grind the waste up until it’s unidentifiable, mix it with inedible waste like kitty litter and keep it in a locked container until transport to a municipality’s usual waste system, whether that is incineration or landfill.

“The environmental agency is going to tell the licensing entity, the (Marijuana Regulatory Agency), whether or not there’s any enforcement actions being taken,” Konwinski said. “It’s unclear what impact that will have going forward, but clearly they wanted to know the information to account for it somehow.”

A spokesperson for the Marijuana Regulatory Agency told News 8 that while the environmental agency would not affect a license application, failure to comply with regulations could be a factor when the time for renewal comes around.

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