Brian Clark, Senior Project Manager at RTM Engineering Consultants, answers the questions: What types of facilities is RTM designing in the emerging marijuana market? What are the main design challenges of each?
In 2012, Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Now recreational marijuana is legal in eleven states and Washington, D.C., and medical marijuana is legal in 33 states. As public opinion on the issue is evolving – a 2018 Gallup poll found that 66% of Americans support legalization – and as more states are changing their laws, the marijuana market will only continue to grow.
RTM Engineering Consultants is building expertise in this emerging market. Our team has already worked on several projects within the industry, and we have more on the horizon. RTM has designed facilities in the three major sectors of the marijuana industry:
- Grow and cultivation facilities: Where plants are cultivated until it is time to harvest them
- Extraction facilities: Where plants are moved after they are harvested. Here, plants are processed in various ways to extract oils and products to put into different pills or consumables
- Dispensaries: The distribution point where products are sold to private individuals. Dispensaries are retail spaces that involve more specialty requirements because of the sensitive nature of the products.
When designing each type of facility, we must research and follow different codes, regulations, and laws, based on the locality. And the three facility categories also pose unique engineering challenges.
Grow and Cultivation
A grow and cultivation facility typically employs a grower who directs how the plants are cared for. The grower gives us the strict requirements for temperature and humidity that must be maintained. Some also have filtration requirements, depending on the facility’s location. If it is near other buildings, it may need different types of filtration to prevent the release of dust or odors. Some growers use carbon dioxide injections to help plants grow faster, and in those facilities, we need to install systems to protect occupants if CO2 levels become too high.
Extraction facilities use specialized equipment to pull out oils and other materials from marijuana plants. They contain high-hazard rooms – called C1D1 rooms by the NFPA 70 – because they often use natural gas or propane to heat up products to release oils. When designing extraction facilities, we need to be aware of which rooms have to meet the fire protection requirements for C1D1 use.
Once materials are extracted from the plants, they will be used to make products that will go to consumers – including pills or edibles like cookies. For this process, RTM has to design a clean room environment, making sure that proper filtration and other regulations are met.
Dispensaries are essentially retail spaces where people who are eligible can purchase medical or recreational marijuana products. But unlike standard retail spaces, dispensaries must meet specific codes. For example, products need to be maintained behind locked doors, and filtration must be adequate to ensure dust or odors from the products don’t fill the space’s breathing environment. When we design dispensaries, we have to know the updated requirements for that locality and follow them precisely.
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