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UL Helps Lead the Cannabis Industry to a Safer Tomorrow

UL, in partnership with the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), to host an ISO International Working Agreement focused on the safety, security and sustainability of the legal cannabis industry. 

Row upon row of lights shine inside a cannabis facility.

November 18, 2020

In November 2020, UL, in partnership with the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), is hosting an ISO International Working Agreement focused on the safety, security and sustainability of the legal cannabis industry. Based on the number of registrants, global interest in a safe and legal cannabis industry continues to increase. Over 200 people from 20 countries have signed up to participate in the workshop that will occur between Nov. 30, 2020, and May 7, 2021. 

The workshop starts with a 1-week virtual working session, from November 30th to December 4th. This first meeting starts the work to develop and publish three documents that will cover the safety, security, and sustainability of buildings, facilities, equipment, and systems utilized to cultivate, produce, process, transport, and sell cannabis and cannabis products. The three workshop documents are:  

  • Workshop Document No. 1 – Safety of cannabis buildings, equipment and oil extraction operations  

  • Workshop Document No. 2 – Secure handling of cannabis and cannabis products  

  • Workshop Document No. 3 – Good production practices (GPP) guide for cannabis  

Future meetings will occur in January 2021, with a potential in-person meeting in May 2021 in Ottawa, Canada. UL and the SCC have tentatively scheduled the publication of the resulting documents for June 2021.   

Details on technical documents 

"Right now, multiple countries are considering legalizing cannabis for medicinal or adult recreational use; however, the infrastructure is still developing," said Tess Espejo, program manager for UL. "Workshop attendees will play a pivotal role in building out that infrastructure through the development of Technical Guide documents. 

Based on Espejo’s research, more than 40 countries have cannabis legislation pending in their congress or parliament. But when legislation passes and a country legalizes cannabis, what happens next? 

Canada is uniquely positioned to offer global thought leadership based on the initiatives the country took to wrestle through the safety, security and sustainability considerations in coordination with regulators, government and industry stakeholders. 

“They had nothing to go on, no infrastructure, no guidelines, no standards to reference,” Espejo said. “Canada went through a lot of trial error in establishing the industry; other countries can learn from Canada’s experience, so they don’t make the same mistakes."  

Visit our UL Canada website for more details on the workshop.  

Canada's journey to legal cannabis 

Recreational cannabis use joined legalized medical use in 2018, making Canada the second country to legalize the substance altogether. But, it wasn't without growing pains. One of the first steps to establishing legal cannabis was developing licensing guidelines for the cultivation, production and dispensing of the substance. Then there were zoning guidelines, hazardous substances guidelines and security protocols: the required regulations go on and on.  

Generally, an industry builds regulations over time, and as technologies change, the standards also evolve to meet the industry’s current needs. However, when an industry is new, there's little to go on and regulations play catch up. But, Canada had a different plan. 

As early as 2017, Canadian regulators approached UL to see if the organization was interested in developing programs to help regulate the industry. 

"Cannabis wasn't even legal yet. The existing codes did not directly address cannabis, and investors were already converting warehouses into indoor grow facilities and factories into cannabis extraction facilities and manufacturing plants,” Espejo said. “The regulators were saying, 'We don't even know what we're looking at; how do we apply our current building codes to these new facilities?’ So, they asked for our help." 

"As UL’s mission is working for a safer world, advancing the safety, security and sustainability of the industry's facilities, equipment and systems are important to the regulators currently looking at this emerging industry," Espejo said. "Based on our experiences in Canada and the United States, we're in a position to help other countries as they legalize cannabis as well." 

What's the danger? 

Safety and security concern every business, and the legal cannabis industry is no exception. Cannabis buildings, facilities, and the equipment used within them can impact not only employee safety but also provide challenges for the security of the product. 

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 occurred at facilities that extract cannabis oil for edible products. 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. 

With the ISO international workshop and key services for the legal cannabis industry, UL is leading the efforts to bring conformity to this market as it emerges around the world. Espejo helped develop the first Canadian cannabis standard (CAN/ULC-S4400, the Standard for Safety of Premises, Buildings and Equipment Utilized for the Cultivation, Production and Processing of Cannabis), and she assisted with the passage of binational standards for extraction equipment and hazardous locations. Additionally, binational standards exist for horticultural lighting and indoor air quality.  

UL continues to listen to government regulators and industry stakeholders and address standardization gaps in the cannabis industry by developing standards, technical specifications, technical guides and other recognized documents. It should be noted that some of the largest cannabis producers in the world recognize the need for international standards and are participating in the development process of these standards and technical documents. 

"We're gratified to know that a lot of countries are interested in the process and committed to developing international guidelines for the cannabis industry," Espejo said. "Opening up the process to the rest world will result in a safer, more secure and sustainable legal cannabis industry." 

Visit our UL cannabis page for additional information on cannabis services from UL.