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Building Types

Have you designed grow facilities?

Yes, grow rooms, as in marijuana. Tell us your engineering success stories

By Amara Rozgus March 19, 2020
Several edible cannabis options are available on the market, including gummies. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

As of March 2020, marijuana is legal in some form in 42 states. In 11 states, including my home state of Illinois, cannabis is considered “fully legal,” which means it can be purchased for both medical and recreational use. As of now, 26 out of the 50 states have undergone some decriminalization of weed under the law, whereas others still have very strict laws that resemble the federal law.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been controversy over its legalization. It’s still a criminal offense in several states, and the federal government has not yet removed marijuana from its list of controlled substances. In places where cannabis has been recently legalized, new dispensaries are running into local zoning roadblocks; some homeowners are taking the stance of “not in my backyard” about these facilities.

In November 2019, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a cannabis reform bill, a breakthrough moment that moves the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry a step closer to federal legalization. If adopted into law, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 could open up business opportunities for legal marijuana nationwide, similar to the federal legalization of hemp.

Legalization also opens up a wide variety of financing opportunities with banks and other lenders. Right now, it’s a cash business; retailers must deal with cash transactions, as bank transfers are considered money laundering under federal laws.

Financial backing for capital improvement projects is taking a hit, too. While buying or renting a building is legal, and its improvement or modification is also legal, it’s a murky subject. Some companies — whether against weed morally or for some other reason — don’t want to touch these projects. A couple of engineering firms I’ve spoken to have said, “No, we don’t have grow facilities as part of our portfolio.”

Edible marijuana options. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Several edible cannabis options are available on the market. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

At a lighting conference about five years ago, my colleagues and I visited several manufacturers’ booths that had a display of flowers under their specialty grow lights. I hadn’t considered commercial grow facilities, but these manufacturers were already making money on projects. And a book was sent to me recently about heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in grow rooms. It outlines the basics of engineering systems in these rooms and highlights the intricacies of these projects. The manufacturers in the industry are taking notice.

This is a booming business, and engineering firms are dedicating resources to it. In some cases, it might be a multiuse facility with growing capabilities, a processing portion and a dispensary. This draws in all aspects of engineering, including fire protection, HVAC systems, lighting and more.

We don’t have a lot of history on the engineering aspects yet, however we’re creating a collection of resources to help better explain the topic. Please share your case studies and technical best practices with me at arozgus@cfemedia.com.


Amara Rozgus
Author Bio: Amara is the Editor-in-Chief/Content Strategy Leader for Consulting-Specifying Engineer.