Environmental cost of growing indoors is luring the marijuana industry back into the sunshine
Reed, Goldman, and other industry representatives strongly condemned the move, mostly on the grounds that creating lists of growers could subject them to federal prosecution, so the idea was shelved for now. But Bhatia said the problem remains, and in San Francisco, it's a problem created largely by the demand for cannabis grown indoors.
But allowing for a more widespread conversion to sustainably grown marijuana will require a relaxation of the federal enforcement to allow for more land cultivation and the development of high-tech greenhouses.
"A lot of that rests in the hands of law enforcement," Pearson said.
But it isn't just the cops. Consumers are also supporting indoor grows.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Pfrommer said there are many factors that influence whether customers choose indoor or outdoor, or what he calls the "bag appeal" that causes customers to zero in on one strain among the 40 or so that can be offered at one time.
Generally, indoor grows are smaller operations, allowing greater care in the tending and processing of the buds, whereas outdoor grows usually produce large crops harvested all at once, "so frequently people won't manicure it as well," Pfrommer said.
Smell is another big factor, Pfrommer said, and that's one area where he thinks outdoor actually has an advantage. "Outdoor generally has a more pungent smell," he said. "Cannabis is very sensitive to the environment, so it can pick up elements from the soil, the wind, and the surroundings. It picks up different qualities."
For that reason, he also said, "I personally find outdoor to taste better when it's grown well," comparing it to the subtle qualities that various appellations can give to fine wines.
The final factor is price, and that's one area where outdoor has a distinct advantage. SPARC is currently selling quarter-ounces of greenhouse-grown Big Buddha Cheese with a THC content of more than 17 percent for just $70. And when the buds from open outdoor fields arrive this fall, they'll be as low as $50.
"This," Pearson said, holding up a beautiful bud of greenhouse-grown Green Dragon, "was grown at a fraction of the cost of indoor and it's outstanding."
"That's why indoor sells for so much more," Goldman said, " because it costs so much more to grow."
So if outdoor cannabis is cheaper, better for the environment, less risky for the industry, and just as good, why are the indoor stains still so much more popular?
"You're looking a 20-plus years of indoor being the standard," Pfrommer said, noting that the hardest part of creating a more substantial changeover in people's buying habits is their expectations.
He said Harborside started offering more outdoor strains three years ago, "but the market wasn't responding as strongly." In other words, people still preferred indoor.
Yet things are changing, prompted partly by the Mills study. "That was what kicked off this latest round," Pfrommer said. "There is a small but growing awareness among the regular marijuana consumers about the costs of growing indoors...The consciousness is starting to shift, but it'll be slow, probably over the next two seasons."
Harvests usually take place during the full moons in September and October, after which they are cured and processed for about four weeks, finally coming to market around Thanksgiving.
"It's mostly an education process," Pfrommer said. "We're going to have a vigorous push around harvest time this year."
"We're trying to transition completely to outdoor because the environmental toll is less, the cost is less, the yield is higher, and our testing is showing that the quality is just as good," said Nick Smilgys, who has done both marketing and purchasing at SPARC. "It just makes more sense to grow it outdoors."