Ahh…the lovely smell of budding terpenes in the morning. Smells like victory. To many in the cannabis industry, it’s the smell of money growing on the stalk. But to others not so high on the business, it smells like trouble.
These smells mean a new marijuana greenhouse is operating in the area, and that unfamiliar odor blowing in the wind is actually the scent of a Schedule I drug many people believe could get them high, get them sick or get their kids addicted to the plant. And yes, people actually believe this.
The stigma of the plant rears its head, once again. If these worriers lived in, say, Gilroy, California, the garlic capital of the world, would they hold the same fears? Or if they lived in Dodge City, Kansas, where one of the nation’s biggest cattle feed lots operates, the ripe smell of manure always present, they probably wouldn’t complain…not too much, anyway, especially after downing one of the best steaks in the world.
But cannabis? Different story.
In Denver, with a saturation of marijuana greenhouse and warehouse grows crowding the city, the Department of Environmental Health updated its odor ordinance to include marijuana businesses along with other odor producing businesses, such as pet food manufacturing. The city requires marijuana grow businesses to develop and submit an odor control plan based on Denver’s odor complaint data and community concerns, as well as a precedent set by odor policy “best practices” of municipalities from around the country. Another grower headache, another line item to populate. Other Colorado cities such as Boulder are following suit. Pueblo’s big open grow seems to be situated in a low-risk area, but there are issues developing.
“‘Just because it’s legal, not everyone has to smell it.’” – Nic Easley, founder of 3C Consulting
It has now become prudent, nay, necessary, for greenhouse builders to work with their desired build location regulations from the start, in order to properly address odor mitigation concerns.
The plant is fickle. The industry is evolving. Cultivation sites are getting bigger. The usual carbon filters and fans that work in apartments and smaller grows are no longer the best option out there. A sealed greenhouse isn’t a great course of action, either, as it allows too much moisture to build up within the structure, potentially increasing mold and fungi on the plant.
Take the case of AmeriCann, now building a one million square foot Massachusetts Medical Cannabis Center in Freetown, population 9,000. It will be one of the largest cannabis grow facilities in the country, and odor mitigation has already been discussed with the town’s leaders.
Tim Keogh, president and CEO of AmeriCann, says that one thing their management group considers before beginning greenhouse design research is the issue of odor mitigation. “What is unique to the cannabis industry,” Keogh says, “is being good neighbors and trying to minimize the impact of operations on the communities in which we are developing these facilities. And true odor mitigation is something that is not quite there yet. I think it’s getting closer and we are seeing more innovation on that. But that is something that we are putting a lot of time and effort into.”
Keogh says they are working on odor mitigation environmental controls, even now, during the development of their facility. “We have pushed the envelope and started looking at different mechanisms for air movement which is fairly unique to the cannabis plant. It’s an exciting time for the industry, but also an exciting time for innovation on the traditional horticultural level.”
One example of an odor mitigation method comes from Fogco, which developed an odor control process that injects a blend of all-natural and biodegradable ingredients into their high-pressure fog system. This creates billions of atomized droplets that then attach to and eliminate the odor—more specifically, the molecules of the odor—of the flowering marijuana plants.
The technology is there, ready to be adapted to fit the plant—after all, this is horticulture, and many inventions are already in place, waiting to be utilized—but you have to do the research.
Nic Easley, founder and president of 3C Consulting, a cannabis consulting firm, says that businesses must find experts from traditional agriculture sources. “Now that we are coming out of the [cannabis] closet, we have to be as professional, accommodating, regulatory-minded and compliant as possible to set the standards in the industry, so you don’t give them a door to kick you out,” he says. “Wise producers of major cultivation operations, if required or not, when they build their facility, they do it the absolute best way possible,” he says. “Just because it’s legal, not everyone has to smell it.”
The odor mitigation issue has come as a surprise to some grow facility designers, because, well, it smells like weed. That’s a good thing, right? So what’s the problem? “They have to remember that they are a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility,” Easley says, “and just like certain toxic vapors leaving one of those facilities, the same with vapors leaving an extraction facility, there is a safety standpoint. And even if it’s not unsafe to smell it, it’s not safe for the industry’s mindset.”
Easley continues: “Just because we are growing and doing this doesn’t mean that someone might be really offended by that odor. Now you want to give them another reason to come after us? Out of nose, out of mind.”