Risks for Cannabis Cultivators

The legal cannabis industry has a long supply chain, starting with cultivators and farmers. While risks are primarily discussed at the retail level, an increasing number of concerns are emerging for cultivators, spanning from health and safety to testing, maintenance and security. If you own a cannabis-related business, here’s what you should know.

Cannabis Is Not a Sustainable Product

Whether medicinal or recreational, many customers believe that cannabis is a product of the earth. Yet in reality, operations are associated with increased levels of emissions and pesticides. The plants also require significant water, which can affect marine life long term.

Research shows a relationship between growing cannabis and elevated amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Trespass grows” – or illegal operations in a legalized state – increase these concerns. In a legalized metropolitan area, cannabis can double the amount of VOC emissions generated. If regulations around the environmental impact of cannabis are not established, some people fear that the VOCs emitted could negatively affect the ozone.

States are attempting to combat VOC emissions and other environmental concerns by enacting regulations for cultivators regarding water use, wastewater, chemical application and disposal and air pollution. Failing to comply could result in the state shutting down a cultivator and revoking their license.

Chemical Exposure

Cannabis cultivator workers are exposed to multiple chemical and biological hazards. These exposures may toe the line or violate EPA and OSHA regulations. Potential hazards include:

  • Pesticides
  • Plant nutrients, including hydrochloric, phosphoric and sulfuric acids
  • Disinfectants
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Mold, yeast and fungi
  • Insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides

Potential reactions include:

  • Coughing and nasal congestion
  • Allergic reactions
  • Wheezing
  • Skin, eye and throat irritation

To address these exposure risks, cultivators are advised to follow EPA recommendations for storage, handling and application of pesticides, and to have a certified industrial hygienist analyze the spore levels in the air. Additionally:

  • Pipes and storage tanks should be regularly inspected for mold and flushed to avoid stagnant water
  • Humidity levels, especially for drainage and watering, should actively be monitored
  • Workers need appropriate PPE

Physical Safety

Similar to any commercial farming operation, cannabis cultivating comes with physical safety hazards that need to be anticipated. These include:

  • Manual labor requiring workers to bend down to trim and harvest cannabis plants
  • Heavy lifting
  • Repetitive motions from trimming buds, which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Requiring workers to work in hot, humid conditions, increasing risks for heat stroke
  • UV light exposure requiring appropriate PPE

Supply Chain Concerns

So far in legalized states, supply chains are fairly contained. Transporting cannabis inventory over state lines remains too high of a regulatory risk. Yet for cultivators, this means that a poor growing season has no backup or secondary supply and creates a ripple effect up to the retail and dispensary levels that influences product availability and pricing.

A New Industry

The recreational cannabis industry remains in its infancy. As a result, market data is still relatively new and does not have the legacy to accurately forecast trends and new products.

For cultivators, this means experimenting and getting potentially inaccurate or partial information that can later influence what’s sold in stores. These factors can result in a surplus of some products or items that do not appeal to the local market.

Federal vs. State Laws

All cannabis businesses are currently caught in the crosshairs between federal and state laws. Because federal laws supersede any at the state level, cultivators continue to experience difficulties concerning:

  • Securing funding
  • Finding partnering service providers and third-party suppliers outside of the industry
  • Using credit card payment systems
  • Getting approved for loans and lines of credit
  • Accessing appropriate financial and security technologies

As a result, all types of cannabis businesses predominately carry cash, which makes them appear like unsecured entities with minimal theft protection.

As a cannabis cultivator, you’re advised to anticipate these risks with appropriate commercial insurance. To discuss policies, contact a HUB International agent today.