Protect Your Cannabis Facility from These Top 8 Environmental Compliance Threats

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Nov 16, 2022

Time to Read 11 Minutes





Learn what we consider to be the greatest threat for cannabis facilities from an environmental compliance perspective.

For cannabis production and processing facilities (and CBD facilities), the biggest environmental compliance threats faced are those that usually arise not from purposeful, knowing and willful wrongdoing. Instead, we’ve found cannabis facilities wind up in trouble due to ignorance of the requirements that apply to their facility, or failure to follow through on the full spectrum of requirements that come with required permits and approvals.

Being in full environmental regulatory compliance isn’t terribly difficult, but might require expertise beyond what most cannabis producers and processors have available internally, meaning that they’ll usually benefit greatly with professional help to get their environmental regulatory compliance on track, the way it should be.

 

Why are cannabis facilities often out of compliance with environmental regulations?

Cannabis growing and processing is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States when one considers the number of facilities now and in the works in legal adult-use states along with those allowing medicinal usage.

Things are moving fast, and that includes how the industry manages regulatory environmental compliance issues. This is also important since not only is the industry changing rapidly, but many state environmental agencies (the primary environmental agencies in most places), along with the Federal government (USEPA) often seem to be catching up to understand - and regulate - cannabis facilities.

From our experience working in various states helping growers, producers, and others in the cannabis realm, we’ve found there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what cannabis facilities need to be doing to get into, and stay into, compliance with environmental regulatory requirements!

Environmental regulations are NOT the same as other compliance regulations.

The cannabis industry faces a ton of regulations varying from state to state, ranging from analytical testing of products to how products can be packaged. If you’re in the compliance realm in the cannabis industry, this is where we hear a lot of folks say “oh compliance, that’s my wheelhouse”! While we appreciate the go-get-em attitude, these staff members are looking at compliance from a completely different angle, in the same vein as financial compliance (i.e. paying your taxes and your staff in accordance with the law) is a completely different realm as compared to other avenues of regulatory compliance at a cannabis facility.

In short, covering “compliance” at a cannabis facility can mean wildly different things to different people within your organization. As always, get the best person for the job so you can rest easy knowing you actually are in compliance! Make sense? Let’s keep going.

Cannabis Facility with Environmental Permits

Top 8 Environmental Regulatory Compliance Concerns at a Cannabis Facility

Previously, we laid out the primary environmental regulatory compliance requirements for cannabis production and processing facilities, so if you want a good guide to what’s what, check this first: A Cannabis Facility's Guide to Environmental Regulatory Compliance

While that guide lays out what compliance facilities frequently need in order to get into compliance, staying there can be another challenge. Here are the top 8 environmental regulatory compliance concerns we’ve identified over the years working within the cannabis industry.

1) Is your cannabis facility actually in environmental compliance?

Right off the bat, not knowing where you stand, or thinking that one issue is all you have to worry about, usually means you aren’t fully in environmental compliance at your cannabis facility.

We’ve met with a lot of cannabis operations personnel who seem to think that their limit to environmental regulatory compliance deals with energy use, waste management, or the permit needed to install emergency backup generators. That might be part of it, for sure, but it probably isn’t all of it.

How about those environmental regulations dealing with hazardous wastes?

What about the different types of Air Quality Permits, ranging from construction to operational?

Do you have SPCC Plans for your generators?

Are you conducting EPCRA reporting (like Tier II Reporting) for your chemicals used & stored on-site?

What about water use regulations and restrictions?

NPDES permits for discharging water (assuming you don't have some type of closed-loop system)?

Your regulations are impacted by the state you’re operating in, your specific processes, and the equipment you use. The point is, there’s a lot to consider, and cannabis producers don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what they’re in compliance with - any more than anyone else does! And considering the “green and natural” image of the cannabis industry (more on this in a bit), maybe the industry has even less leeway than others!

2) Does your cannabis business follow through on environmental regulatory requirements?

Okay, you got an air permit for your cannabis facility as required, great!

But did you fully read your permit?

Do you have monitoring, recordkeeping, or training requirements?

How about your SPCC plan for your generator’s belly tanks (if you aren’t using natural gas)? Are you doing your monthly inspections? How about annual SPCC training?

All environmental regulatory requirements come with a variety of tasks and to-dos that must be completed throughout the year or throughout the life of your permit, plan, or approval. It’s your responsibility to understand your requirements, and make sure they’re happening! Sure, having your permit or approval is a good thing, but if you don’t follow through, it’s almost as bad as not having one in the first place. In fact, some of the most severe environmental violations we’ve ever seen issued have been for operations that knew enough to get covered under a regulation, but then ignored it once they had it. Not a smart move!

3) Are you getting professional environmental help at your cannabis facility?

Yes, this is inherently a bit of a biased point, but we see it all the time.

From the point above, maybe you’re getting to the point that there’s a lot to environmental regulatory compliance, and it might be more than your facility manager or COO understands, Maybe you need to talk to a cannabis industry environmental expert!

Sure, you know you’ll need to pay taxes every year, but doing so is confusing. If you give it a decent shot and screw it up, the treasury department isn’t going to cut you any slack - and the same goes for environmental agencies. If you need outside help, get it.

Not only can an outsider make sure you’re doing things correctly, but you can also start to discuss unbiased environmental audits with an expert, someone who can honestly and transparently report on where you stand, what needs to be corrected, and how to maintain long term environmental compliance at your cannabis facility.

Environmental Compliance at a Cannabis Grow Facility

4) Does the staff at your cannabis facility understand the difference between environmental agencies?

We see this all the time, and not just within the cannabis industry!

Consider this - you get a knock on your cannabis facility’s front door and notice it’s a uniformed government representative of some kind. If it’s a local police officer, you’ll be alarmed, but probably not that much. If it’s a state trooper, that’s a bit more alarming. If it’s the FBI, that’s pretty darn scary.

The same goes for environmental regulations and who regulates and enforces them. All too often we hear “someone from the EPA stopped by and hassled me” - when in reality it’s a member of the city’s environmental planning & engineering board, or something else relatively benign.

The environmental regulations that impact a cannabis facility often exist on a local/county/regional, state, and Federal level. Understanding who is responsible for what, and why, makes the world of difference.

It can be confusing, and we get that. Most environmental regulations come from the Federal USEPA, which delegates these regulations to States (think air permits). Sometimes, local agencies will do likewise (think of air permits in a place like Las Vegas). Conversely, some regulatory requirements (think SPCC Plans) are only handled by the USEPA.

You could be in full compliance with the limited number of USEPA regulations you face, and maybe even your state’s own additional requirements, but there may be regional, county, or local requirements. Understand who’s asking for what, and why, so you can handle environmental compliance at your cannabis facility with ease.

5) Does the staff at your cannabis facility receive environmental training?

We often use the analogy of financial management at facilities - probably only one person does the tax returns, but everyone participates in some way in the financial workings of the facility and company (such as time cards, paychecks, IRA participation, invoicing, accounts payable, etc., etc.). Environmental regulatory compliance works the same way! Not everyone has to be an expert on that environmental permit you have, but virtually everyone needs to know something about it! Leave it up to one person and it’ll probably go down the tubes, particularly if that one person leaves or changes jobs within your operations.

But if you have a full team playing their role, regularly getting trained and knowledgeable on the environmental regulations that impact your cannabis facility, then you’ll be in better shape should personnel change, someone's out of office, or any unforeseen event occurs.

6) Are you really understanding what Environmental Justice means to a cannabis business?

This industry and that term get thrown around all the time - it makes sense, and we’re on board! However, just because you have a great business plan and looking to bring a unique business to a certain location does not always mean the community will actually want you there.

For example, we regularly hear questions about odors associated with cannabis facilities and their impact on neighbors. Often, those who work at the facilities or within the industry (who probably are used to the odors and enjoy them) downplay this as an insignificant issue. If others take it seriously, you can well bet they’ll keep on it, such as by making this a source of complaints to environmental regulators.

The same goes for larger operations that are installing generators as supplementary or backup power. Your cannabis facility could fall flat on its face if the local community doesn’t want to deal with the noise and emissions from a diesel or natural gas generator running all day long.

While Environmental Justice is something we can all get behind, from the business side of things it can have a very real, often detrimental impact to starting or modifying your existing cannabis facility In short, don’t ignore the community!

7) Is your cannabis company viewed as a bad actor (environmentally)?

Face it, in the green cannabis industry, nothing can negatively impact your reputation faster than the public, neighbors, competitors, and other regulatory agencies finding out you are the subject of a serious environmental screwup.

Maybe your facility was built without the proper permits and approvals. Maybe you had an emergency backup generator installed and are instead using it as a source of power 24/7, violating your permit conditions.

Let’s be crystal clear - if you don’t take environmental regulations seriously, you could be denied for any number of things, from installing equipment to modifying your process, to permit renewals or more. You could also be looking at massive financial fines for failing to do things by the book from an environmental regulatory perspective.

What does all this mean? Your reputation can suffer on a community level, and on a regulatory level. If your operation is perpetually at odds with the community, expect them to reach out to state agencies, who are always looking to issue violations and make some money. If you are known among regulators as a bad actor, you can expect more inspections, more scrutiny, tougher penalties, and less leeway if you stray from environmental compliance at your facility.

Your reputation impacts you today, and down the road, not just with the public, but with the folks who are reviewing and issuing your permits.

8) Is your cannabis facility viewed as an asset to the community?

Just like bad press for being a polluter or rule-breaker can hurt you, there can be big community, public relations, corporate reporting, sustainability, and investor benefits to be had by those who run a stellar environmental regulatory compliance program at a cannabis facility.

Someone out there has the most environmentally compliant cannabis facility. Is it you? Would you like it to be you? Do you understand the benefits of being in that position?

This is exactly what the public (and Wall Street, investors, regulatory agencies, you name it) are looking for today, and your commitment to the environment along with a spotless record will really go a long way towards selling your facility, product, and company.

Don’t hide your accomplishments under a rock, let everyone know your cannabis facility is an environmentally compliant superstar of the industry in your state!

Environmental Compliance for Cannabis Business

Environmental Compliance at a Cannabis Facility is a BORING BASELINE!

This entire post is about environmental regulations at a cannabis facility.

Boring!

Environmental regulations are the participation trophy of environmental performance; you are expected to perform at this level, and really won’t get any rewards for doing so (although no fines or penalties are its own reward).

The real glory comes from going “beyond environmental compliance”, where we start talking about things like sustainability, environmental management systems, cost reductions, and savings through green measures like energy reductions, waste reduction/recycling/composting, etc.

These are the things that make cannabis facilities stand out from the rest.

Want to be the first ISO 14001 EMS certified cannabis facility in your state? Now you’re talking!

Want to take smaller steps and achieve a Zero Waste Certification? Completely do-able.

Maybe you know you're overloaded and need dedicated help. Something like an "outsourced environmental department" can help you deal with regulations while focusing on what YOU do best!

Cannabis facilities that only follow the law are great. Who doesn’t like it when someone simply follows the rules? Investors and the community, that’s who! How are you going above and beyond? How are you giving back to the community, the planet, your staff, etc.?

These acts of going above and beyond at a cannabis facility, environmentally, are where things get really exciting, where you’ll really start to see benefits, and where people really sit up and take notice.

In the meantime, let’s wrap up by saying this. Environmental regulatory compliance at a cannabis facility isn’t hard, but it does have to be done.

And, most cannabis producers and processors, who excel at what they do, usually don’t have the time and expertise for this compliance-related work unless they have dedicated staff, or are a smaller operation with very simple environmental compliance needs.

If that sounds like your facility or company, then get help, and get into compliance. Then, move on to the good stuff!

To learn how we can help get your cannabis facility into compliance with environmental regulations and stay out of trouble, either fill out the form below to reach out to us directly, click here to contact us, call us anytime at 888-RMA-0230, or shoot us an email at info@rmagreen.com to talk.

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