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PHOTO: Diane Fornbacher/Ladybud Magazine
The Marijuana Enforcement Division of Colorado has released a new set of permanent rules governing the nascent cannabis industry in that state. In response to a recent article that appeared in the Denver Westword Blog, some have been quick to criticize these guidelines, implying that they’re effectively banning solvent-based extracts, or that the industry is being regulated into oblivion, or that the people’s movement to legalize cannabis is being undermined by pages and pages of bureaucracy. However, a closer look reveals an intricate but well thought out set of rules that will help ensure public safety, alleviate the concerns of some of those who are reluctant to accept legalization, and provide a secure but robust framework, within which the legal cannabis market can thrive and succeed over the long-term in the State of Colorado.
One of the most noticeable changes being implemented is the way in which extraction methods are being restricted. Some have balked at these provisions, but I regard them as a positive move. At first glance, it may seem like solvents and high-tech CO2 extraction methods are being pushed out of the picture, but in reality the rules being imposed on these are intended to ensure that such extractions are performed safely. For example, the only approved methods that will be permitted on site in the future are water-based and dry ice extractions, which pose a relatively low risk; however this restriction applies only to extractions that are performed within the retail location itself. The intention is not to encumber the use of these methods, as some have been quick to assume, but rather to separate manufacturing facilities from retail facilities for health and safety reasons, when potentially dangerous chemicals and processes are involved.
Solvent-based extractions are still permitted, but these will now be much more tightly controlled, and they will be required to be performed off-site. The new regulations will ensure that specific types of equipment are used, that those systems are inspected by qualified engineers, that hygienic standards are upheld, and that high quality materials are used in the extraction process. These rules are not arbitrary or meant to be punitive, but rather they are intended to protect the safety of customers, employees, the general public and the environment, as well as to ensure the viability and success of the industry as a whole. For example, as the article in the Denver Westword Blog aptly noted:
“Solvent-based concentrates must be produced using a closed-loop system in a facility certified by an industrial hygienist or professional engineer; all of the procedures must meet local and state fire and electrical codes. The only exception is for isopropyl-based extractions, which don’t require a closed-loop system.”
There can be little doubt that this particular measure is a direct response to the plague of BHO explosions that have occurred around the country over the last several years, caused by amateurs who lacked the necessary understanding or training to properly and safely handle the volatile chemicals involved in the extraction process. Even CO2 extraction poses significant risks, although for different reasons, namely the exceptionally high pressure and low temperatures involved. Attempts to perform these kinds of extractions using substandard devices in poorly chosen locations, or without adequate safety equipment and procedures, would pose unacceptable risks that could quite literally blow up in the face of the cannabis industry. Without these kinds of specific and purpose-driven guidelines with the proper oversight, it only takes one unscrupulous or negligent individual to set off a massive BHO explosion in a retail location that is open to the public, causing massive destruction, injury, and even death. Additionally, contaminated or tainted products that were created using sloppy or irresponsible practices could easily endanger the safety and health of cannabis consumers like you, your friends or your family members. Clearly, an above-ground legal market cannot allow such tragedies to occur and steps must be taken to prevent these before they happen.
A key point that everyone in the cannabis industry should keep in mind is that just one single incident causing large-scale harm could torpedo the fledgling cannabis industry and legalization as a whole. Public opinion of cannabis would undoubtedly take a huge hit if such a tragedy were to occur. There is no doubt that it would feed highly flammable fuel to the fires being stoked by the likes of Dr. Christian Thurstone, Project SAM and other prohibitionists who refuse to relent in their efforts to fight legalization. The people on that side of the fence are just waiting for one little screw-up (let alone a huge one) to occur involving a cannabis business, and they are chomping at the bit to exploit such an incident for the maximum value possible in furthering their propaganda. Therefore, cannabis businesses must be hyper vigilant to ensure that they are operating in the most responsible and safe manner possible, so as to not give their opponents a leg to stand on, in addition to avoiding potential harms that no one wants to cause in the first place.
That said, I do recognize the fact that these regulations will place a financial burden to some degree upon cannabis businesses, but thankfully most of these expenses would only represent one-time costs. Furthermore, this investment should return a great deal of value to those businesses over time, by providing them with a sustainable environment in which they can grow and profit, by minimizing these liabilities. Fostering such a positive business environment will go a long way ensure the future success and viability of the cannabis industry overall.
For these reasons, I welcome these regulations and I hope that others will recognize their importance as well. I am convinced that they are vitally necessary to prevent further unintended tragedies and to ensure the future success of the cannabis market in Colorado, and I would recommend to anyone who is concerned about them, to read and research the details of these, giving them serious consideration with an open mind. You may be pleasantly surprised to realize the good that these will do when examined within the frame of the bigger picture, and I believe that they will serve as a useful blueprint for other states that choose to pursue the legalization of cannabis in the near future.