Critical Considerations for a Medical Marijuana Grow Facility

Cultivation requires expert know-how paired with leading technology. Without that, even superior technology will deliver only mediocre results.

The facility is squeaky clean and looks more like a pharmaceutical plant than a marijuana operation. Barch says he hopes the slick operation will change the perception of marijuana.

In California, irrigated agriculture is the largest water user and is diverting vast volumes of surface and groundwater from sensitive watersheds (Bauer et al. 2015).

Design and Construction Considerations

While the most eye-catching aspect of a cannabis cultivation facility may be the racks-upon-racks of plants growing to the ceiling, these plants actually require an extensive number of systems that must work together in order to maximize yields and ensure plant health. This includes implementing the right HVAC system to control temperature and humidity, using irrigation and fertigation methods that optimize energy efficiency and crop growth, and utilizing proper lighting for each stage of the cannabis cultivation process.

Finally, implementing robust security measures is essential to protecting plants against theft and other forms of contamination. This can include incorporating cleans rooms where employees must change their clothes before entering cultivation spaces to avoid tracking in pests or contaminants.

It’s also important for cultivation facilities to understand the nuances of local regulations and ensure they’re in compliance with these requirements from the start. This can help avoid costly delays and potential penalties later on. The best way to do this is by working with experienced construction and engineering partners who can provide guidance for each step of the project.

Space Ratios

In the cannabis industry, plant density directly correlates to crop yield. Too few plants in a given area means lower yields; too many, and a cultivator risks losing profitability.

Cultivators must carefully consider planting density as they expand to medium and larger facilities. Fortunately, increased efficiency doesn’t require an enormous amount of additional square footage. In fact, once you reach the 100,000-square-foot mark, growers tend to shift from a canopy-maximizing mindset to one more akin to a greenhouse setup.

Greenhouses are the preferred cultivation structure for quality results. They are lightweight, provide ample rooftop ventilation and allow for optimal climate control. Depending on the local climate, however, cultivators can also utilize other structures such as barns, quonsets or converted closets.

Some growers even use “grow tents” — a plastic or metal framed structure that has been insulated and has light proof zipper doors. Using various training methods and space optimization techniques, these configurations can significantly increase yield.

Permits and Zoning

When you think of a marijuana grow operation, the popular image is that of scruffy hippies growing their own supply in an unregulated underground economy. But now New York state is embracing a regulated cannabis industry that will offer jobs and opportunity for people from all backgrounds.

A medical marijuana patient can grow up to six plants on their property if they register with the state program. And if they have a physical or cognitive impairment that prevents them from growing the plant on their own, they can designate someone to do it for them.

But if you want to build a commercial cannabis facility, you’ll need to obtain a business tax receipt (BTR) and be sure the site is properly zoned for cultivation. You’ll also need to have a plan for disease control and be prepared to quarantine your clones for up to 1 month before visual inspection for mites or hop latent viroid.

Production Processes

Regardless of whether your cannabis facility specializes in cultivation, extraction, or both, there are a number of critical production processes that must be considered. These include security services, fire protection and more.

Creating SOPs will improve your overall operations, regulatory compliance and cannabis production consistency. SOPs are also helpful in onboarding, training and educating staff.

For example, clone rooms require unique environmental conditions and irrigation protocols that differ from vegetative (or veg) rooms. For this reason, we use special PC CNL drippers in our clone rooms that are pressure regulated and non-drainage. This allows you to irrigate your plants with precision and uniformity.

Extraction facilities also utilize specialized equipment to pull oils from the cannabis plant. These are high-hazard rooms — called C1D1 rooms by NFPA 70 — that have to meet specific fire protection standards. This requires careful planning and a thorough understanding of your operations to ensure the proper design is implemented. Developing these plans early will avoid costly change orders and delays in occupancy.

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