If you’re in the cannabis business, your risk for hefty fines and even prison may actually increase with legalization.
It's counterintuitive, but think about it: Food and pharmaceutical manufacturers face criminal and civil penalties for contaminated products. Why wouldn't you? If you’re a grower or manufacturer who's looking forward to capitalizing on expanding marijuana legalization, be aware: Your risk—and your responsibilities—are going to multiply. As cannabis is legalized in more jurisdictions, more regulation, at all levels, is inevitable.
You may not need a clean room now, but you will.
So, what's a clean room? It's a sterile work area typically used in high-tech manufacturing and scientific research. Air quality, temperature, humidity, etc. are highly controlled to prevent contamination such as dust, microbes, aerosol particles, mold spores, etc. Workers generally wear special clothing to avoid bringing in any outside contaminants.
Regulatory landscape evolving rapidly
As more states legalize marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, they are developing regulations to ensure the safety of patients and other users, growers’ neighbors and industry workers. Even California, which legalized medical marijuana more than 20 years ago, is making changes.The Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act will be finalized in time to start issuing licenses by Jan. 1, 2018. California is important to watch, not only because of the maturity of its cannabis industry, but as the saying goes, “as goes California, so goes the nation.”
We’re seeing other states take tough approaches, too. For instance, Oregon’s legislation calling for strict testing. And even the testers are being tested. Despite the law allowing for random testing, marijuana contaminated with some of the 59 illegal pesticides has been found on a regular basis in independent testing conducted by The Oregonian. A newspaper exposé may not carry the weight of a government crackdown, but it’s certainly bad for business.
Finally, there’s the inevitability of federal oversight, from both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Hill reports that Democrats in states where cannabis is already legal are pushing for federal regulation. Manufacturers of cannabis products should prepare themselves.
The FDA, for example, requires Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to ensure products are made with strict adherence to quality standards. GMP requires, among other things, controlled conditions to prevent cross-contamination. It also requires facilities to maintain a clean and hygienic manufacturing area.
Prepare for the inevitable
GMPs are in place for the pharma, biotech, food industries—it’s just a matter of time for cannabis production. Investing in clean room technology now puts you at a competitive advantage. It also protects your investment. One stray spore can contaminate a lot of product. You won't lose just one marijuana plant: You could lose an entire crop.
And then, there’s this: With or without regulation, consider your potential liability if someone gets sick or injured as a result of tainted cannabis. Are you willing to take that risk?
Getting the right clean room
Once you've decided you need a clean room, you face another question: What kind?
A portable clean room may be the best option. This is especially true for new entrants: Not only do they cost less than traditional clean rooms, they can be set up in a fraction of the time it takes to build a conventional one, which means you get your product to market faster. Moreover, because they can be reconfigured, they are more versatile, making it easier to adapt to changing regulations.
Another consideration: Do you want it just for manufacturing, or also for growing? Although most clean room discussions relate to manufacturing facilities, more and more cultivators—especially on the medicinal side—are providing sterile, contaminant-free grow rooms. As one grower puts it, it’s no different than a NASA clean room. After all, there really is no such thing as “a little contamination.”
So if you just want to grow a marijuana plant or two in your basement (in a state where cannabis has been legalized), have at it. But if you want to grow a successful cannabis manufacturing plant, do your due diligence. Consider a clean room.
After all, it would be ironic to go to prison for marijuana once it’s legal.