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Increased Cannabis Legalization Spotlights Safety Concerns

A cannabis bud grows under horticultural lights at a commercial farm.
September 10, 2019

In case you missed the news, cannabis is rapidly losing its taboo status around the world. Evolving attitudes along with growing legalization are driving market growth the global legal marijuana market size is projected to expand at a CAGR of 23.9% by 2025. 

“Currently 41 countries have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, or both,” said Joe Hosey, general manager of UL in Canada. “Most industry experts expect this growth to double in the next 12 to 18 months. You’re likely going to have more than 80 countries that are going to have a legal cannabis industry.”

While cannabis is still in the early days of decriminalization and legalization in the U.S., as of August 2019, two-thirds of U.S. states have given the green light to the production and distribution of cannabis in some capacity. Hosey expects large growth in the industry and ongoing legalization efforts of both medicinal and recreational cannabis worldwide.

Legalizing cannabis

The rise of the cannabis industry is serious business with cannabis extracts emerging as the most lucrative segment. Global cannabis extracts represent a market opportunity that has already crossed into existing industries such as food and beverage, cosmetics, healthcare and more.

However, history has shown time and time again that wherever there’s rapid growth in an industry, safety can suffer – case in point, hoverboards, dietary supplements and USB cables.

Everyone, from commercial growers, product development facilities, distribution networks, storefront retailers and beyond, wants to optimize growth through increased production and supply chain efficiency. Many new entrants, however, may be unaware of the occupational challenges present throughout the cannabis industry. The preeminent issue now is how to protect workers and support industry growth.

What’s the danger?

Hosey identified two known risks impacting worker safety:

  • Security is almost always a large concern for a business, and the cannabis industry is no exception. Retail robberies and stolen products during deliveries mean that third-party tested and certified security systems, including vaults and access control measures, should be installed by the business. 

For those in the medical cannabis industry, many jurisdictions treat the drug as a controlled substance with high-security requirements. “Canada, for example, requires remote access monitoring and card access control measures along with an integrated fire system,” he said.

  • Occupational hazards include everything from potentially harmful ultraviolet (UV) exposure to explosions and fires at cannabis processing facilities. In the past five years, at least 10 fires have occurred at facilities that extract cannabis oil for use in edible products. “Nearly all resulted in serious injuries for production-line staff,” Politico reported in February 2019.

“This is a newly legalized industry,” Hosey said. “Workers in this industry should be afforded the same levels of safety as any other industry.”

Meeting a high standard

Standards for the cannabis industry range from horticultural lighting equipment, oil extraction equipment, building fire safety, security systems and air quality. As a new industry, it is facing new regulations, which aren’t the same across the board, yet.

“It was really an outreach from regulatory authorities across Canada that are struggling with all these operations popping up all over the country,” Hosey said. “There seemed to be no consistency for what authorities were looking at. It was only natural that UL is the company that everyone turned to for help with safety and security.”

Due to the combustibility of the fuels used in the extraction process, companies have been turning to UL to test extraction equipment in our explosive atmospheres laboratory, according to Milan Dotlich, Europe and America's vice president of Energy and Power Technologies at UL. 

It should be noted that the extraction process of cannabis is like that of any essential oil, similar to how other safety requirements may apply to indoor horticulture as a whole. Extracting oil from a plant is dangerous because it typically requires highly-flammable butane or some other volatile solvent to strip and collect the oil for product development.

“More than just the physical safety of workers and locations, we offer services for the entire supply chain,” Dotlich said. “Whether it’s verifying the source of the products, engaging in anti-counterfeiting activities or delivering analytics and tracking the movement of products, UL can meet the needs of this emerging market.”

Do you want to learn more about our work with the cannabis industry? Visit us at https://www.UL.com/cannabis to see more and contact us.

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