NFPA Impact: February 2019
Legalization of cannabis presents new challenges
With new legislation that came into force Oct. 17, 2018, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis, it appears evident a whole new world is being unveiled to the fire service.
Traditionally, cannabis use and production resided in an underworld of secret, or not so secret communities. Now the stigma of marijuana consumption is being shrugged off, making cannabis-related investments some of the most prized trading stocks over the past year.
Many multi-national conglomerates are jumping into the market, vying for position as top producers and distributors of this newfound gold. Currently, the simple use and consumption of cannabis is all that’s permitted, but wait until April 1, 2019, when pot derivatives hit the market. At that time, you’ll begin to see every range of possible use and consumption.
Health Canada has adopted a licensing classification system that includes “standard,” “micro,” “nursery” and “hemp” cultivation licenses, and each have varying degrees of requirements such as: where they can be located; what type of physical security is required; personal security clearances; good production practices; reporting and record keeping; produce tracking systems.
By the way, the new legislation also allows for a non-licensed provision, whereby each household is permitted up to four plants for cultivation and personal use only.
As can be expected with many large-scale operations, those operating under a “standard” producer licence will likely be set up and operate as a top-rate or first-class producer. Those may be major operations with buildings of over millions of square feet in useable space and akin to major breweries or distilleries.
Those operations are very large investments, to say the least, and whatever can be done to ensure production and investments are protected will likely be undertaken. What may turn out to be less safe are the “micro” and “nursery” class licensees and home growers. They are less regulated and may not apply the same degree of attention to fire and life-safety requirements.
As a case in point, this past November a home in Whitby, Ont., was literally destroyed in an explosion that was suspected to be the result of an illegal cannabis oil extraction operation. The explosion sent three people to hospital and placed a mother and child at risk.
In the public consultation phase of the legalization exercise, the NFPA worked closely with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs to develop a list of fire-safety concerns to inform Health Canada of some of the dangers that may arise or exist as a result of legalization. While the security aspect of the legislation seemed well-covered, it was encouraged that a greater focus be made with regard to fire and life safety.
While cannabis production plants are not specifically addressed in the national model building and fire codes, various provisions in those codes are applied to make sure the structures, processing and fire-protection systems are built and maintained in a safe and sound manner.
However, for those looking for comprehensive information and guidance on inspection and enforcement for these types of installations, it may be found in Chapter 38 of the 2018 edition of NFPA 1 – Fire Code, and the NFPA Journal July/August 2018 edition (see article Growing Pains). Both are at www.nfpa.org/marijuana.
As information, Chapter 38 provides advice on basic requirements for facility permitting, occupant egress, grow operations, fumigation, fertilization, signage, temporary or moveable walls, tarps, pesticides and carbon dioxide enrichment setups. What’s also included is a section specifically addressing extraction room configurations that take into account the dangers of use and handling of high-hazard flammable liquids. The chapter also focuses on what is needed for proper ventilation, ductwork, electrical and lighting systems, and addresses the appropriate grounding and bonding needed for trans-fill operations.
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