The Next Evolution of Cannabis Facilities

In previous articles for Grow Magazine, I have focused on the three pillars of success for a sustainable company, People, Planet and Profit. These core values are the foundation of a sustainable mission for all commercial companies focused on growing and/or processing cannabis in a legalized era of increased scrutiny and requirements. At Rogue Sky, we have been very fortunate to have great clients and are grateful to have contributed to their success. However, there are a good number of facilities we visit that would not be allowed to operate under new, more stringent regulation. My use of the word regulation refers to the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP), which are stringent regulations and systems that assure proper design, monitoring, and control of manufacturing processes and facilities. These are the same regulations and standards used in the production of pharmaceutical products. In my experience, there are a good number of facilities that can be easily retrofitted to comply with CGMP regulations. Another organization supporting the future of cannabis growers and processors is the non-profit Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards (FOCUS) (www.focusstandards.org). They are helping lead efforts to define what growing and processing  standards will look like as legalization moves forward. Rogue Sky supports their mission and I recommend referencing FOCUS frequently when reviewing your existing facilities or planning new ones.

Ideally, every quality grower has a Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Plan. IPM’s typically focus on prevention, monitoring and control with the use of pesticides outside a facility, and sterilization and limited preventative sprays inside a facility. Today, the foundation of any IPM plan needs to include the design of a clean facility. There are many things that design engineers can integrate into a new facility or do to retrofit existing facilities. While these designs are not always the cheapest facilities to initially build, they become the cheapest over the life of the facility through reduced operational costs and the production of quality and compliant product.

Three critical design elements I integrate in all facilities as part of a layered approach to IPM plans is 1) design to prevent external threats from entering a facility, 2) high quality air filtration with an emphasis on providing the correct filters for the application and the ability to scrub the entire air volume of a room multiple times per hour, and 3) the ability to sterilize and disinfect equipment and rooms easily.

Prevention

In new facilities and existing facilities where possible, I focus on developing a system of isolation zones that have different pressures and cleanliness standards. The idea of isolation zones is a common practice in other industries such as semiconductor and pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities. They allow employees to move from one zone to another, ensuring each zone is closed and secure before moving into the next zone. In principal, this concept can be a bit difficult to understand, but in practice, it’s very easy to do and can be very cost effective to implement in a brand new facility without an increase to facility costs.

High Quality Air Filtration

In my experience, installing HEPA filters and independent UV sterilization units are a waste of money and increase a facilities energy use and operational costs. Filters should be selected to capture 99% of the particles sizes that matter most in a single pass. i.e pollen, mold and powdery mildew (PM) spores. Filtering particles smaller than those critical to crop integrity and disease translates to fans working harder to meet your airflow demands while using more power and not providing any additional benefit to your crop or operation.

Sterilize and Disinfect

The ability to wash down, sterilize and disinfect equipment and rooms is easily one of the needs outlined by regulation that many facilities do not consider. It’s relatively easy to sterilize and disinfect a room, however, most HVAC systems are passed over and represent a continued source of contamination, especially after an outbreak of PM. Hygienic air conditioning or dehumidification systems (i.e. units that can be internally sterilized) are very costly, putting them out of the fiscal reach of most growers even if incorporated by design engineers. I believe costs will come down as the market strengthens for these type of specialty units, but one alternative that Rogue Sky has been recommending as a more affordable alternative is a hygienic fan filter unit by Element Grow, called the E1. This unit is all stainless steel construction, very efficient in terms of power consumption and filtration capability and designed to be washed down and sterilized on a regular basis. It can be set up as a portable unit or permanently fixed in place.

As someone passionate about helping grow and processing operations create a solid foundation for a long life of production in a future of federal regulation, I encourage every existing and new facility to see the wisdom in working towards preparing themselves for a new era of regulation.

- Jason Dubose

Jason is a 15-year mechanical engineering industry veteran with an extensive background of designing a wide range of high tech, ultra-clean and hazardous critical facilities and processes across the US and worldwide.

His design specialty has translated into energy efficient, cost effective, safe and secure cannabis grows and extraction facilities that consistently outperform expectations. He puts customers success ahead of personal profits and is passionate about helping guide and support the hemp and cannabis industries as they heads towards a legalized future.

Read more about Jason on his LinkedIn profile.