Keys to Cannabis Construction
By Peter Regan | Posted on November 2, 2021
Since Massachusetts voters cleared the way for medical marijuana use in 2012 and then the opening of the state’s first recreational shops about five years ago, the marijuana industry continues to gain momentum year over year bringing promises of aid to the local communities that allow dispensaries and grow facilities in their towns. Many, however, are vocally wary of whether the economic impact actually outweighs the unintended consequences of bringing the business of cultivating and selling cannabis so close to home.
So, there’s no denying that cannabis is an issue and that there are people all over the state standing firmly on both sides of it. It is also, however, an industry just like the many others we already serve by constructing buildings and infrastructure to support their businesses and the communities in which they operate. Since it shows no signs of slowing, let’s look at the construction perspective of the cannabis industry through the same set of eyes that we do any other one. There are similarities to industries we’ve served before – think lab space, restaurant, and retail – and it should come as no surprise that there are also some topics to consider that are unique to the production and sale of cannabis.
Similar to any facility that needs building, identifying a location suited to its use is one of the first tasks on the front end. In the case of a grow facility, one must first select a spot that can accommodate the growing and selling of cannabis. There is no limit on how many facilities Massachusetts can have, but not all cities and towns will allow them. There’s a fair amount of due diligence necessary to be compliant with community departments such as building, zoning, agriculture, and public safety. An agreement needs to be drawn up between the business and the municipality, and funding needs to be secured. It’s worth pointing out here that since cannabis is still federally illegal most banks and lending institutions that are federally chartered cannot lend money. As a result, almost all funding is private capital.
Electrical – Now this is obviously dependent on the size of the grow facility, but roughly speaking we are looking at 1600 AMPS for smaller grow facilities and 3000-4000 AMPS for larger facilities. There are minimum efficiencies set by CMR 935, and there also also basic watts per square foot of canopy for some simple lighting calculations. Due to the large lighting and cooling loads service upgrades often need to be considered, and in many cases are not an option due to power availability or schedule for a new service. In these cases we have to look to our next consideration.
Natural Gas – Having Natural Gas on the site is ideal for a couple of reasons. It is more efficient and cost effective for heating large structures, but more importantly it gives you the opportunity to produce supplemental power on site via a CHP system. A CHP system also gives you added resilience if power goes down in the area.
Water – In the vast majority of places water access is not an issue, but size comes into play again here. Depending on size of the facility and use of the facility, water consumption could be heavy. A lot of this is solved by the installation of storage tanks used in the fertigation process, but you’ll need plan space to accommodate the water storage tanks.
Given those cursory details about the elements of a business in the cannabis industry, you likely already have some ideas of how its needs parallel others businesses that you’ve previously encountered. Specifically, a cannabis grow facility will have a heavy emphasis on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing similar to base building infrastructure projects.
Grow areas are “clean spaces” analogous to clean rooms in biotech/life science. Mold is the enemy to any grow and measures are taken to prevent this throughout the entire design. Certainly a facility that manufactures, processes, packages, and stores food-grade product will comply with all the requirements that one would find in kitchens and restaurants. Finally, dispensaries need to be designed with the product and end-user experience in mind in the same way other retail spaces are.
Cannabis Specific Systems
Every industry has its own specific needs, and the cannabis industry is no different. There is some specialty equipment to consider before and during construction.
- C1D1 room construction.
- C1/D2 room construction.
- Butane, ethanol stored in limited amounts either in chemical storage cabinets or outside.
- CO2 injection as way to increase yield stored in exterior storage tanks.
- Odor mitigation managed by carbon filtration, mulch bed air filtration, Pollution Control Units.
- Green lighting allows for staff to work safely around the room without disturbing the plants’ “sleep cycle.”
Above: Fertigation mixing and controls. Below: Green lighting.
What Does the Future Hold?
If projections are to be believed, then there will be about five to seven more years of construction until the demand has been met to fit out spaces for the licenses currently available. Still, many variables remain. Will the federal government make this legal and change the rules of interstate commerce with this industry? Will the potential for consolidation develop, akin to the alcohol industry, where there will be one large corporation to grab a large portion of the market with space for some boutique specialty players? With delivery now available for both medical and recreational use, will logistics and distribution become greater factors to the construction process than they currently are? Wherever the cannabis industry goes the construction industry will provide the infrastructure necessary for its success just like we do with every other sector. So, it only makes sense to start paying attention to where it’s headed.
Where is cannabis headed in Massachusetts and the United States, and how do those changes impact our industry? Tell us what you think.