April 20 2010,

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America

In a surprising bit of news we’re reporting that marijuana (yes the Cannabis plant) is having a direct impact on the reef aquarium hobby. The popularity of medical marijuana may be a double-edged sword in the widespread availability of new lighting technologies for use in marine and reef aquaria. Discussion in the LED lighting sector have suggested that some LED lighting companies that have not yet entered the reef aquarium industry are considering focusing on the budding and state-legalized medicinal marijuana growing opportunities rather than the reef aquarium LED lighting market. California’s decision to legalize medicinal marijuana has brought about a market for legal growing operations and some LED manufactures think it could be much more lucrative to cater towards the medical marijuana lighting market.

Marijuana has a surprising impact on reefing, beyond just staring at the "pretty colors"

Growing plants is far easier than lighting reef tanks.  Plants require light for photosynthesis (obviously) but do not require the debatable lighting spectrums used to make reef tanks pretty.  Adding some pink fluorescent bulbs to a reef tank has long been known to bring out some colors (although possibly contributing to the bleaching of some corals), and now we see LEDs that are 420nm or 480nm, and even green LEDs being suggested for aquarium fixtures. This type of variability and personal choice make mass production of lights very difficult.  It has been a major reason why local stores often chose not to stock metal halide bulbs.  On the other hand, cranking out LED fixtures that are all the same is very appealing to a manufacturer.

Reef Hobbyists are also known for wanting all sorts of “extras” with their lights.  Separate plugs for blue and white, built in timers, dimmable controls, splash guard to keep water out, optical lenses, plus be able to withstand an overall harsh and humid environment.  Now picture needing a light fixture to throw in your closet over some plants… just one plug without bells and whistles and not nearly the amount of humidity issues.  The cost of production would be far less than the souped up “reef” version.

However, this information may not be that bad in the end.  If there is a market for plant growers to use LED lights and we see more companies tapping that market, it could lead to mass production of fixtures which could be used in the hobby.  Swapping out bulbs could be the first step to basic entry-level LED fixtures.  An entire market for adding extras (timers, dimmers, lenses) wouldn’t be far behind.  The basic takeaway from this all is what may be a hindrance in the short term as some companies pass on the reef market, could turn into big improvements in the future as general fixtures become mass produced lowering the cost and allowing more hobbyists to take the plunge towards LED lighting.


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