Cannabis Industry Moving Fast: Get an EHS Guide

The cannabis industry nationwide is growing and evolving rapidly—making safety and environmental compliance a major challenge. Fortunately, there are partners—with the passion, resources, and experience—to guide managers and owners to success with their cannabis businesses.

In many ways, it’s an exciting time to be in the industry—the market is relatively young and those who enter it now are in a great position to help guide its direction and maximize the profits. In fact, the cannabis industry hit $12.4 billion in 2021, and will continue to grow rapidly, as this blog has noted.

However, it’s also a market in turmoil, with an ever-changing and expanding hodgepodge of rules and regulations in those states that have legalized cannabis sales. If—and when—those holdout states legalize cannabis—there will be yet more new regulations and environmental, health, and safety (EHS) processes to implement.

Unpredictable Cannabis Industry

At the federal level, businesses must follow existing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines. These rules could change at any time, as legislators or regulators promulgate new policy to address potential issues. Then there are local regulations that apply at the county or municipal level—potentially involving the regional board of public health—and with the fire and police departments doing the enforcement.

Also, managers and owners should adhere to cannabis industry best management practices to stay ahead of what regulators may enforce in the future. Managers typically only discover these best practices by networking with other companies and partnering with consultants who have the experience and knowledge. Such insights gained through real-world operations—or peer sharing—can offer competitive advantages. However, managers must put in the effort to codify and implement these industry guidelines.

Cannabis Industry EHS Challenges

So, as the cannabis industry’s rules and best practices evolve, so do the consequence of substandard performance. This can lead to injuries, inferior products, monetary finesand may even require a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP).

The EHS threats fall in two major categories:

  • Workplace Risk: There are many safety challenges to workers—given the breadth of the activities involved in processing cannabis. The workflows run from seed to sale—or cultivation to distribution—which comprise all the steps connected to growing and harvesting the buds, to prepping, packaging, and ending in waste disposal. Also, companies must eliminate organic and industrial wastesanother potentially dangerous procedure. And in any workplace that uses chemicals and machinery, improper safety protocols can result in dangerous events, including fire, flood, or chemical exposure. These events can result in lawsuits, penalties, and down time—as well as potential loss of profit and brand image.
  • Environmental Risk: Cannabis is an agricultural industry with intensive manufacturing processes. Overall environmental sustainability is a major issue—and there are a variety of risks involved, including the creation and disposal of organic and inorganic wastes. Proactive states have established environmental guidelines to minimize the significant impacts caused by the full cannabis product lifecycle. This includes reducing water and energy usage—as well as mitigating the effects of the pesticides and other chemicals involved.

Cannabis Industry Partnering Checklist

As we can see, it’s a full-time job to address all EHS requirements in this still-maturing industry. To reduce that managerial burden and ensure your organization is executing all the EHS processes correctly, there are capable partners available. However, as with any key collaboration, you must perform due diligence and select only that EHS consultant that demonstrates it can meet your needs.

For starters, as a cannabis operator or manager reviewing vendor candidates, you should look for relevant expertise, capabilities, and resources in the following areas:

  • The cannabis industry: It’s important that the partner have a history in supporting actual cannabis customers—preferably those similar in size and scope as you. Look at your specific operations—does the vendor support growers, retailers, or both? What size are you? Are you at enterprise scale? The larger and more comprehensive your operation, the more robust and capable the services provider you select.
  • Compliance: Ideally, candidates will have supported enterprises in your state and region and demonstrate a complete understanding of your particular market and geography. This includes full adherence to EPA and OSHA rules, and to those of any other relevant federal agency (potentially including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)). Then there are the local and state-level guidelines—and, as we’ve noted, the state cannabis regulators may be separate from the state environmental regulatory agency. This adds yet more complexity. As we noted, some states regulate such things as water and energy consumption—and may even limit the amount of single-use plastics permitted in cannabis product packaging. 
  • Market agility: Because the industry continues to expand and define itself, an EHS partner must be flexible to help you adapt on the fly. The partner must understand that new regulations or best practices could emerge at any time—requiring course correction. By drawing from deep experience in other industries (healthcare, life sciences, process manufacturing) the partner should be in an ideal position to implement these changes with a minimum of disruption.
  • Core EHS processes: To provide basic waste disposal, safety, efficiency, and other services, the partner obviously must have the adequate resources, personnel, gear, and the like. It also should be capable of turnkey services—including education, training, waste management and more. And, ideally, the candidate will be capable of supporting its processes and documentation with secure and highly available cloud based mobile solutions.
  • Overall workplace safety: The partner must clearly understand the risks in cannabis workplaces. This includes protecting workers involved in separate phases of the business—from harvesting, prepping, to packaging, and so on.

Cannabis provides a great business opportunity—if the manager and owner executes the EHS processes correctly. A skilled partner can ensure you are operating at peak efficiency and steadily increasing your bottom line. If you need a partner for some or all your cannabis operations, talk to us today; Triumvirate Environmental offers a full suite of cannabis EHS capabilities.

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