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Cannabis in Canada: How Are Building Codes Keeping Pace?

Dominic Esposito

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Oct 12, 2019

On October 17, 2018 Canada legalized the recreational sale of cannabis. Canada is only the second country in the world, besides Uruguay, to allow a nationwide cannabis market. As this rapidly growing industry expands, how are the current building code requirements addressing the fire and life safety risks in these facilities?

Health and Safety Hazards in Cannabis Industry

With the surge of interest in retail cannabis products, understanding the hazards associated with cannabis processing has become increasingly important. For instance, in a grow facility maintaining proper temperature and humidity is critical as higher humidity can result in mold growth and other undesirable results. To counter these sources of contamination, growers may use toxic or flammable fumigants. If an ignition source is present during fumigation, a fire or explosion could result.

Extraction techniques are used to separate the components of cannabis and remove them from the plant matrix. Flammable fluids such as ethanol or butane are hazardous and require special provisions. Other extraction processes involve carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 must be placed under pressure and then passed through the material to extract the cannabinoids (CBD). At high concentrations, CO2 exposure can cause symptoms in workers that range from headaches to extreme cases of unconsciousness and death.

Cannabis Facility Building Codes

Until recently, the entire supply chain and distribution of cannabis has not been directly covered by the umbrella standards applicable in Canada. While the National Building Code of Canada (NBC), the National Fire Code of Canada (NFC) and occupational health and safety regulations have requirements to address some of the hazards, gap still exists. This March, a diverse team of industry professionals and regulators started to address the need for standards by developing the CAN/ULC-S4400, Standard for the Safety of Premises, Buildings and Equipment Utilized for the Cultivation, Production and Processing of Cannabis. This standard is intended to assist designers, property owners, engineers and regulators set the baseline for safety and security of the cannabis facilities and cultivation.

Zoning Considerations

Because cannabis as an industry is relatively new, there is still debate in the code community whether facilities should be considered agricultural buildings or rely on the stricter requirements applicable to industrial/manufacturing facilities. The requirements associated with agricultural occupancies, such as greenhouses, are generally less stringent. If plant growing is the only function of the building, it could potentially be categorized as an agricultural facility. However, additional uses such as extraction and processing may require that the building be instead considered as an industrial facility, which could have siting and zoning implications. The design of cannabis facilities should consider the unique hazards of the processes and the relatively new standard applicable to these operations.

Contact us to have a professional team with direct, relevant experience guide you through the design process to deliver the most appropriate fire safety and security design for your facilities.