warehouse structural design

Introduction 

Designers encounter some issues during the architectural design of cannabis facilities. Such factors should be given special considerations to ensure efficient & safe product delivery. Furthermore, they may face other potential legal challenges when working in this industry. We will also be looking at some of those risks in this article. But first, let’s start with the design issues! 

Unique design issues in the marijuana industry 

architectural design of cannabis

First of all, the typical model of the marijuana business has 3 components. They include; a dispensary, grow facility, and infusion facility. The selling of the product takes place at the dispensary. Seeding, growing, and harvesting takes place at the grow facility. The extraction of THC for use in various products occurs at infusion facilities. Each component experiences its unique set of challenges. Architectural design for grow facilities is different from architectural design for extraction facilities. 

The marijuana industry is to some extent new. Zoning, fire & building regulators are still trying to determine risks and code provisions. Furthermore, no regulations are governing their operations. This encourages start-ups to act with some level of impunity. It is also worth noting that each operation takes place in a different facility site. Thus, the mechanical design for cannabis facilities for different sites is different.

Nonetheless, after conducting inspections, regulations are identifying and addressing some common violations. This includes; non-compliant construction, no occupancy certificate, and overloaded electric system. Another violation is the use of unapproved CO2 enrichment systems and extraction equipment. 

Common risk issues 

During the construction of cannabis facilities, design professionals encounter various challenges. Such risks are rarely seen in a typical construction project, which is what makes them unique. Thus, every design professional taking part in designing them should know those risks. They include; 

  • Worker safety 

People working at a marijuana grow facility are exposed to harmful chemicals. Those chemicals come from pesticides, fertilizers, and CO2 asphyxiation. 

  • The threat of Fire & explosion 

Marijuana facilities also face a considerable risk of fire and explosion. For instance, there were more than 30 butane hash-oil explosions in 2014 in Colorado. To reduce the explosion risks, municipalities are imposing certain requirements on cannabis facilities. 

  • Electrical risks 

Marijuana facilities have automated control systems that check the ambiance & run the equipment. Thus helping to maintain the best conditions for optimum crop yield. If the electrical system or computer system fails, the plants will be in jeopardy. 

  • Real Property damage 

Although the state law considers marijuana legal, the federal law sees otherwise. So, owners think that the federal government might intervene and even prosecute them. This fear causes marijuana facility owners to lease the grow rooms. Unfortunately, the leased spaces are not specifically designed for that purpose. Indeed, the environment affects the building’s structure. For instance, the relative humidity of marijuana grows rooms range between 60 and 65%. While the temperature ranges between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes condensation of building components, promotes biological growth and material deterioration. 

  • Miscellaneous risks 

Marijuana is not grown in a facility with 1 big open room. Instead, marijuana growers isolate the plants depending on their growth stage. Hence, a large warehouse resembles a maze since it features many rooms. Designers should avoid blocking the egress paths with storage containers or equipment.

Liability Issues for design professionals 

Inadequate design 

Sometimes, the design, or operation of a marijuana facility is not properly done. This can either damage the product or property. So, it is important to consider the following basic design components: 

  • Electrical design for grow facilities: 

Marijuana grow facilities need a lot of electricity. This is because of the air conditioning systems, grow lights, and other equipment. An overloaded electrical system has been the cause of the fire in some grow facilities. Thus, the design of the electrical system should follow the National Electrical Code. Furthermore, there should be an evaluation of the building’s electrical service conductors. 

  • Plumbing and mechanical design for extraction facilities: 

Marijuana facilities should have floor drains. They help with the removal of spilled nutrient solutions and water. These drains should also have screens that will trap debris and plant materials. According to international plumbing code regulations, irrigation water supply should have back-flow valves. This prevents contamination of the household water supply. 

  • Vapor barrier: 

The facility’s ceiling and walls should have corrosion-resistant materials and vapor barriers. Apart from vapor barriers, the wall should also have enough insulation. This prevents condensation of air on that wall, forming water droplets. 

Product Liability 

  • Edibles: 

Edibles that use oil extracts from marijuana are not properly regulated. Such products take one/ two hours to provide the euphoria. This is because the quantity and quality of THC contained in an edible isn’t standardized. Using many servings at once tends to have a psychological or addictive effect. Also, there have been no tests to establish the potency & contaminants in marijuana. 

  • Plants:

Marijuana that undergoes a state-mandated test may contain traces of mold or pesticides. This can expose the distribution chain (retailers, growers, and labs) to liability suits. Vigorous humidity and mold on the walls can cause product and property damage. This can also cause pathogenic organisms to grow on the product. Hence, marijuana product contamination is a significant risk and valid issue. 

In both cases, it’s easy to envision how the liability can be against the design professionals. It can either under contribution claim or direct cause of action.

Code Provisions of a Marijuana facility 

Sample codes where marijuana facilities are illegal

  • No person shall operate, maintain, develop, establish, or construct a marijuana dispensary.
  • No authorization of any application for a use permit, building permit, or any other license for the development, operation, maintenance, construction or establishment of a marijuana dispensary facility.

Sample code provisions from different California jurisdictions 

  1.  Operation plan 

The medical marijuana facility should have a ventilation plan showing its ventilation systems. That plan will help to prevent any medical marijuana odor from coming out of the premises. Grow facilities should also have such a plan. It should include all ventilation operations that will control the plants’ environment. The plan should also describe how those systems prevent the smell from leaving the area. 

  1.  Security plan 

The electrical design for extraction facilities should show various security points. This includes locations of the proposed light fixture and exterior lighting information. It should also show motion detectors, safe locations, cameras, and security system computer. 

  1.  Building Regulations 

The application of a building permit should conform to the general submittal requirements. There should be plans from a Design Professional addressing certain marijuana needs like; 

  • Cultivation facilities should meet IBC (International Building Code) Chapter 3 requirements. This is according to the Factory-Industrial occupancy & use classification (IBC 306.2).
  • Dispensaries and centers must meet the requirements of IBC Chapter 3. This is according to Mercantile/ Business Occupancy in Occupancy & use classification. (IBC 309.1).
  • Applicable requirements on fire suppression system as per local amendments & IBC Section 903. 
  • Applicable requirements on Means of Egress according to IBC chapter 10. 
  • Applicable requirements on accessibility according to IBC Chapter 10. 
  1.  Energy efficiency regulations 

Every marijuana facility must counterbalance its energy consumption by purchasing renewable energy. This can be in the form of a California wind source or on-site generated power. It can also be from a verified community solar garden or an equal power source approved by the state. 

  1.  Mechanical regulations 

The mechanical design for cannabis facilities should prevent odor from leaving the premises. Its minimum requirements shall include;

  1. Design and construction of exhaust systems to capture contaminant sources. This will prevent odors or contaminants from spreading to other inhabited building parts.
  2. Marijuana grow facilities’ ventilation rate should be at least 60 cfm per person. The outside rate of ventilation for dispensaries and centers should be 15 cfm per person. 
  3. Exhaust outlets of a cultivation facility should be ten feet from operable building openings, mechanical air intakes & property lines. 
  4. Exhaust outlets of a marijuana center should be three feet from operable building openings, mechanical air intakes & property lines. 
  5. The ventilation system should filter the smell from the premises to prevent it from reaching any adjoining property or business exterior. 
  6. Fire protection guidelines 

Most jurisdictions use NFPA 8 as a standard for regulating marijuana extraction facilities. Yet, this standard is generally recognized as insufficient. The NFPA gathered a work group to create a new NFPA1 chapter. NFPA stands for National Fire Protection Association. This chapter is about fire code provisions for marijuana processing and grow facilities. The committee has also come up with a new chapter 39. It talks about ‘Marijuana growing, extraction & processing facilities’. 

  1. Post Construction regulations 

After receiving the construction permit, the applicant should submit an alarm system monitoring procedure. The same applies within 10 days of construction completion/ final building department inspection. The procedure should include the following; 

  • Emergency contact & names of people responsible for informing the police department about criminal activity. Reporting should be within twelve (12 hours) of any criminal activity
  • contact information and name of the landlord in case of rented business space 

Emerging Issues in the design of Marijuana Cultivation facilities 

Even though marijuana cultivation is relatively new, the industry is dynamic. Considering the many uses of hemp, marijuana is being accepted as a medicinal product. This is being accompanied by marijuana ‘legalization’ for recreational purposes and regulation changes. In this section, we’ll look at the emerging issues in the design of cannabis facilities. 

  • Regulatory changes

Various jurisdictions are continuing to approve marijuana production for recreational and medicinal use. Consequently, the industry is experiencing some considerable changes in its regulatory status. Many countries are also legalizing medical marijuana. For instance, Europe and Canada are adopting regulatory constructs for their production. 

In the USA, the FDA proposes guidelines for any food, drug, or related pharmaceutical. However, Marijuana is still deemed illegal at a nationwide level. As such, no federal agencies are overseeing/ establishing good manufacturing practice regulations. Thus, states that have legalized marijuana are following their policies. Furthermore, some states are even starting to refer or follow cGMP regulations. Design professionals should, therefore, acknowledge all regulatory policies, both internationally and nationally. 

  • Production Changes 

Design professionals should also acknowledge the changes in technology and economics. this is because they’re affecting the design of marijuana grow facilities too. Many economic factors are affecting the design of a cultivation facility. They include: lighting type, irrigation methods, grow medium & plant height at the harvesting stage. These factors play a very important role when it comes to the success of a grow facility. 

The architectural design of cannabis grow facilities is moving towards integrated facilities. This involves combining cultivation, post-processing, extraction, test labs, and consumable manufacturing. Hence, designers must understand every step, starting from bringing clones/ seeds to transportation. 

Conclusion 

When an industry emerges, institutions responsible for developing safety policies must evaluate it. This helps them to develop proposals for the safety of the public. What follows from there is legal solutions to the arising challenges. 

In the case of the marijuana industry, the arising issues are not easy to address. This is because of the conflict between the state and federal government on the industry. Even so, there have been considerable steps in the safety of marijuana facilities. However, issues on business and legal aspects seem to be in a state of uncertainty. 

Political issue aside, the marijuana industry recently established a consent on design concerns. For instance, the grow facility must avoid contaminating or damaging the building. Also, designers should cut the facilities’ impact on the public & consider worker safety. In general, design professionals should consider unexpected and potential liabilities. Moreover, they must acknowledge the emerging trends and changes in this dynamic industry.

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