All industries must strive to build a foundation of trust and provide a safe and sustainable environment for their employees and consumers. Health and safety are critical values that GroTec will not compromise when designing industrial agriculture facilities. From fire prevention and structural integrity, to bacteria and mold control, a safe workplace and production environment begins with the industry developing and standardizing occupational safety and health programs. In these early stages of cannabis we have been given few guideposts to follow. This has left the task of creating, elevating, and educating to the industry participants and the surrounding infrastructure. Being saddled with transparency and raising awareness about practices and consequences is a necessary part of growth
This fast growing sector of the consumable products market has not currently formalized any such standards, placing the responsibility on industry contributors to be more transparent through education and data collection. We need to standardize the condition of facilities before product hits the market. While we do not have a road map for this in the cannabis industry itself, there are other recognizable and established industries we can draw from. Libby Holah, Co-owner of HOLAH Design + Architecture, reiterates the importance of setting a standard in relation to building permits. She says, “The biggest learning curve for everyone in the industry who is a code official and building permit official, along with ourselves, is figuring out the code and understanding where we stand in relation to what we have already been doing.” Due to the lack of industry safety standards, GroTec is taking the lead in creating the guidelines that the state can mandate.
POTENTIAL CONSTRUCTION AND FACILITY HAZARDS DURING GROWING
• Chemical, fertilizer, pesticide use and exposure (intentional & unintentional)
• Electrical hazards from improper wiring
• Mold, asbestos, other facility contaminants
• Plant exposure to environmental contaminants
• Issues with agricultural use in industrial zones
• Storage of hazardous materials
• Improper education of staff on equipment use
There are several issues at hand, the first being that business owners can be unfamiliar with existing standards. This comes down to simple outreach. Solving this problem requires engagement of infrastructure. Education programs and agency lessons begin by reaching out to new facilities. Creating an environment of collaboration is critical, and we must recognize the immense learning curve we are all faced with. This education needs to go both ways as a lack of process knowledge on the side of the business owner is equally matched by the same information gap on the side of the agencies and environment.
The second significant issue to be raised is that of simple immaturity. Finding parallels amongst other industries will likely prove very valuable to establish standards in the growing industry. Holah points out that for building permit submittals, the hazard level of a grow facility is “factory industrial,” which is the same level as a commercial kitchen. “Those submittals tend to be very similar with what we know we’re going to need with equipment and specifications,” said Holah. While identifying parallels in other industries is a helpful starting point, room needs to be afforded for those standards to be adjusted as we find what works and what doesn’t.
The additional complication of state versus federal laws is one of significance. Without a federal presence where we might expect one to be, we are straddling strapped oversight agencies unsure of their role in regulation and states battling the inconsistencies from county to county. Additionally, the continuously evolving federal position on legalization itself is an issue. While this can create a lack of solid ground to stand on, GroTec believes it also provides an opportunity. The state of Oregon has a long standing reputation of producing the highest quality cannabis in the country and some of the best craft consumable products in the nation. By engaging in knowledge and reputation of these comparable industries, we can work together to create a set of standards that put us on track to be the first FDA-ready producers in the country.
“I think this is one of the biggest opportunities we have as a state,” said GroTec CEO Anya Gordon. “We can be the ones to say, ‘This is the floor. This is the baseline.’ We take this industry very seriously. We take our craft seriously…and it provides the opportunity for Oregon to really take a seat on the national stage in a way that a lot of states have not done yet. And I think that’s a huge opportunity and silver lining.”