Report: U.S. legal cannabis water use to almost double by 2025

Feb. 24, 2021
Study finds water use efficiency critical to cannabis industry sustainability

Two research firms and a nonprofit group recently released a joint report titled Cannabis H2O: Water Use and Sustainability in Cultivation.

The three organizations — New Frontier Data, a data, analytics and technology firm specializing in the global cannabis industry, the Resource Innovation Institute (RII) and the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center — started the project in April of 2020. 

The report provides an in-depth look at water usage in the regulated cannabis cultivation market and how its use compares to the illicit market and traditional agricultural sectors. The report also includes strategic recommendations for policy makers, industry leaders and other key stakeholders.

“Water has always been a vital variable to cannabis cultivation, especially in drought-prone states such as California, the U.S. cannabis cultivation epicenter,” said New Frontier Data Founder & CEO Giadha A. DeCarcer. “Ongoing environmental concerns, and now rapidly increasing pressure to price competitively, are making water efficiency critical for lower operational costs and industry sustainability in the U.S. and abroad.”

The report reveals that the cannabis industry uses significantly less water than other major agricultural crops in California. However, there are significant opportunities to drive even greater efficiency in the industry. “It is interesting to note how the conventional wisdom about water use in the legal industry does not appear to be accurate, which further validates why the findings in this report are so important. Understanding water use is the first step to learning how we can create a more sustainable cannabis agriculture industry,” said Derek Smith, executive director of RII.

The report assesses water use intensity variances across different facility types and sizes, identifying significant opportunities for cultivators to improve water efficiency by adopting new techniques expected to be key industry-wide sustainability drivers.

Key Findings:

  • By 2025, total water use of the legal cannabis market is expected to increase by 86%.
  • Combined legal and illicit cannabis crops used nearly 2.8 billion gallons in 2020, with usage forecast to reach 3.6 billion gallons by 2025 fueled by demand-driven growth.
  • The illicit market will remain the primary driver of water use over the next five years, accounting for 83% of water use in 2020, and declining to 69% in 2025.
  • Water use practices are highly diverse in the new regulated cannabis industry, underscoring the need for well-tailored regulatory policies that are responsive to this diversity.

Supplementing this report, New Frontier Data, Resource Innovation Institute and the Berkeley Cannabis Research Center will conduct a Free Industry Briefing on Wednesday, March 10 at 3 PM eastern time. The briefing will address both commercial and policy implications detailed in the report.

To register for the briefing go to

A copy of Cannabis H2O: Water Use and Sustainability in Cultivation can be downloaded here:

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