Simanaitis Says

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MARY JANE AND VOC EMISSIONS

I ENJOY CALLING it Mary Jane for old times sake. Marijuana is in the news these days because its production could worsen the emissions of VOCs, volatile organic compounds. Jason Plautz’ “Growth of Legal Pot Farms Drives Smog Worries” describes the problem in the January 25, 2019, issue of Science, the weekly publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

VOCs Beget Smog. Volatile organic compounds (emitted by plants including cannabis) can mix with nitrogen oxides (produced by cars and industrial sources) in a sun-driven reaction that forms ground-level ozone. Succinctly, VOCs and NOx plus sunlight produce photochemical smog.

Image from Scooter’s World.

Cough. Cough. My eyes burn.

Legal to Some, Not to All. At last count, 10 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized sale of recreational marijuana and hence of its production. On the other hand, the federal government still considers cannabis to be illegal. And, not without a trace of irony for all involved, this is part of the problem.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordinarily monitors factors that drive air pollution. However, it doesn’t recognize pot production. Nor, according to Science, does the federally funded National Center for Atmospheric Research allow cannabis plants at its Boulder, Colorado, facility. Thus, Science notes, researchers found themselves “stuck in a position where we have to cobble this together on our own.”

Garage-based, Not Lab-based. As summarized in the abstract of “Leaf Enclosure Measurements for Determining Volatile Organic Compound Emission Capacity from Cannabis spp.,” Chi-Tsan Wang et al write that their research was not performed in a government-supported laboratory, but in a garage. Among their findings: “Within the city limits of Denver, Colorado, there are now more than 600 registered Cannabis spp. cultivation facilities for recreational and medical uses, each containing thousands of plants.”

Science author Jason Plautz writes that this study “confirmed that pot plants are rich sources of potent VOCs called terpenes, which give cannabis its dank smell. And it suggested the tens of thousands of plants in Denver’s indoor farms —which are mostly found along two busy highways, could, under a worst case scenario, double the city’s volume of smog-forming VOCs.”

Plautz quoted one researcher saying, “If I was designing an ozone reactor, this is what I’d do.”

Denver already occasionally violates federal limits on air pollution. What’s more, the question of pot workers’ and users’ exposure is another aspect thus far unaddressed.

A pot farm in Avondale, Colorado. Image from Science, January 25, 2019.

Canada to the Rescue? Plautz suggests, “Some help could soon come from Canada, which recently legalized pot—opening the door to studies that don’t have to hide in a garage.”

A Personal Recollection, Sorta. It was the wild and crazy ‘70s in which I had my first, and to my recollection, only encounter with Mary Jane. A high point of the experience was being really entertained by an entire Donna Reed flick on the television.

This was when I was living on St. Thomas in the Caribbean. We didn’t even own a television. I’m toId I was giggling at the stereo. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

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