Though hydroponics can be accomplished in many ways, the most widely used hydroponic system in commercial medical marijuana growing is the Drip Irrigation System (“DIS”). The DIS system operates by placing plants in a grow medium – typically peat, coir or rockwool – in pots, grow-slabs or grow bags while a timer activates a submerged pump, allowing nutrient-rich water to drip onto the base of each plant through a small drip line. The benefits are: faster harvests of cannabis, cannabis plants are able to be swapped out quickly and easily, the water flow is customizable with more control over the plant watering schedule, water frequency can be changed more easily, and the amount of nutrient solution each plant receives can be controlled more easily.
With the growing legalization of medical marijuana, more states are accepting and reviewing greater numbers of cultivation applications. Because of the increase in cultivation applications submitted, applicants are looking to differentiate themselves with agency reviewers by employing new and improved changes over traditional cultivation techniques. These new changes make it important to consider impacts on state environmental and energy resources. Hydroponics offers numerous environmental benefits. Approximately 50% less land is needed for commercial medical marijuana hydroponics because plants can be placed closer together without causing problems in growth rates. This allows for more land for wildlife reserves and less of a need to demolish forests to create medical marijuana farms. Similarly, less land erosion occurs with hydroponic growing since tilling of land is not necessary and no significant changes to land must be made to support growth. Hydroponics for medical marijuana growth contributes to less stress on the increasingly strained water supply since the water is either recycled or fed directly to the plants and retained for days or weeks in a water bank. This means that there is no need to continuously pump new water into the hydroponic system, allowing for water conservation.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health regulates the medical marijuana industry under Title 28, Part IX of the Pennsylvania Code. Hydroponic growing is referenced only minimally within Title 28. Section 1141.21 of the Code defines hydroponic nutrient solution, spent hydroponic nutrient solution and medical marijuana waste (to include spent hydroponic nutrient solution). Hydroponic nutrient solution is defined as “a mixture of water, minerals and essential nutrients without soil used to grow medical marijuana plants”; spent hydroponic nutrient solution is defined as a “hydroponic nutrient solution that has been used and can no longer serve the purpose for which it was produced”; and medical marijuana waste is defined as “solid, liquid, semi-solid or contained gaseous materials that are generated by a grower/processor or an approved laboratory” and includes spent hydroponic nutrient solution.
Another environmental benefit of hydroponics is less fertilizer use. Decreasing the use of fertilizers creates less toxic waste such as ammonia and fluoride. The significantly less runoff produced by commercial hydroponic growing means less poison in groundwater such as rivers and streams. A reduction in groundwater toxins decreases insect and small animal deaths due to pesticide and herbicide use. Additionally, commercial hydroponics drastically reduces the amount of pesticides and herbicides needed in the first place which means less poison on the cannabis plants being grown, directly benefiting patients. Finally, hydroponics has a direct benefit on the environment through the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. Hydroponics allows for local medical marijuana growing which means decreased pollution rates associated with transportation of medical marijuana from a farm to a dispensary.
“It’s just because it’s still too new, and they’re not really educated on it,” Glaude said. “They don’t spend their time researching marijuana and the laws unless they’ve already been kind of in the black market life.”
Pickford said she’s looking forward to when more people can grow in 2023. In the meantime, Pickford said she wants to have an educational seminar at the Agway about growing medicinal marijuana, featuring brands the store stocks, once she gets the legalities checked out with the state.
“I’ve seen four or five grow shops that know about this go in and out of business,” Glaude said.
Hart thinks some of these customers may gain a general interest in gardening.
With the legalization of marijuana coming in multiple steps in Connecticut, nurseries and other stores are getting ready to supply a new clientele.
Any individual over 21 can currently smoke marijuana in Connecticut, but people 18 and older who are medical marijuana patients can start growing their own cannabis plants in Connecticut in October. They will be limited to three mature, or flowering, plants, and three immature plants per person, or 12 plants per household, whichever is fewer.
Jennipher Pickford, manager of the Norwich Agway, said she’s had customers looking for cannabis growing products for a while, though the same products can be used for traditional gardening. Some of the popular products include Fox Farm Ocean Forest soil, Coast of Maine Grower’s Blend fertilizer, along with fish and bat guano based fertilizers, and hydroponic equipment.