Legal marijuana stinks. We’re not talking about its merits as policy, an issue on which we are still weighing the evidence. We’re talking about olfactory realities that may not have been fully considered in the debate over how to regulate the production and use of cannabis.
Burning joints have a pungent aroma, as anyone strolling through the Loop or many other neighborhoods is occasionally reminded. If the residents of the apartment below yours are fond of weed, you may get frequent whiffs at odd hours. Those negative externalities, as economists call them, will probably grow more common where recreational pot is legalized, inviting more widespread use. But that’s just one part of the problem.
You could, for example, live next door to a processing operation or cannabis farm. To hear these neighbors tell, the airborne aroma is sometimes enough to gag a buzzard.
A certain tolerance of strong smells is often required in bucolic locales. Not everyone gets to live by a chrysanthemum farm or orange grove. Rural Midwesterners are used to the fragrance that wafts on the breeze when farmers spread manure to fertilize their fields. Some people who reside downwind of hog and dairy farms might prefer the scent of pot.
But those are well-established phenomena, which should surprise no one who chooses to live in the country. The bouquet of cultivated or processed weed is new and, to some noses, more noxious (and obnoxious).
Elected officials often respond to the complaints. In 2016, the county commission of Spokane, Wash., approved a ban on new outdoor marijuana farms, and Mendocino County, Calif., has prohibited them in some zones.
It’s safe to bet that cannabis growers and processors will have to find ways to contain their emissions, adapting equipment created for landfills, sewage treatment facilities and meat-processing plants. One option: Outdoor growers can install fog machines that pump out mist containing air-freshening chemicals.
We expect that a lot of corporations and entrepreneurs will get busy devising imaginative ways to curb the conflict between pot producers and their neighbors. In our free enterprise economy, after all, there’s no shortage of people who love the smell of money.