As the cannabis industry matures, it’s becoming more and more common for cannabis companies to need the services of a professional architect, rather than taking the do-it-yourself approach of retrofitting a warehouse or retail space.
Marijuana Venture spoke with Brian Anderson, a founding partner of the Massachusetts-based architectural and design firm Anderson Porter Design, about how the role of architects is changing in the cannabis industry and some of the specific issues he’s helping clients with.
Marijuana Venture: What’s it been like for you professionally to make this transition into the cannabis space and help blaze a path in this new industry, at least from a regulated standpoint?
Brian Anderson: It’s a blessing and a curse. I really like my customers, and as a general practitioner, I couldn’t always say I liked my customers. I do find it rewarding that I’m able to provide a professional service to an industry that has never used the professional services of architects before.
And it’s absolutely every day that I’m learning something new, and engaging every one of my faculties. So that’s the blessing side, that’s the part that’s really satisfying.
The frustrations come because this was an entirely unregulated, illicit market. So many of the best people coming forward are what we call legacy growers — folks who may have grown in a garage with plastic over the windows and they didn’t record anything because of liability with prosecution. So one of the hurdles and challenges has been for us to help in understanding how to work within standards. The architecture industry is completely governed by standards.
In the medical device manufacturing industry, those standards are all written down. In the cannabis space, it’s been an effort to assist in that, to bring this industry into understanding OSHA, to understanding what are good practices and safe practices.
There are things that have never been done before in the cannabis industry, because there were no regulations and there were no regulators. So our role is really one of helping customers to understand the standards and how to apply them. And that’s expensive. So there’s a huge frustration because the banking industry doesn’t work with cannabis businesses. So how do we get money to pay for having an architect tell them you’ve got to put a ceiling in every room when they’ve never done that before. Am I a friend or an enemy?
It’s a bumpy, bumpy road. Some states require real estate as part of your application for a license. Well, that has bankrupted people here in Massachusetts, applicants who are paying rent to hold a property while the regulatory agency is reviewing their application. Those are difficult things for all of us to deal with, both the cannabis industry and all of us who are service providers, advisors and consultants. It’s a difficult industry to work.
MV: Have you seen security become more of an important factor in recent years? On the West Coast we’re seeing a rash of burglaries and robberies at cannabis retail stores in particular, but also break-ins at production facilities. How have you seen security evolve?
BA: Security is altogether different on the East Coast. As a as a customer in San Francisco, I can walk into a dispensary and I’m greeted at the door and my license is checked, but once I get into that dispensary, I could walk around the back of the budtenders booth, without obstruction. I could walk around the back of the reception area without obstruction. That never happens in Massachusetts or Connecticut or any other East Coast dispensaries, because the states have required the physical environment to be different.
In East Coast dispensaries, you go through what’s called a “sally port” in the criminal justice system, and in my work with the Federal Reserve Bank, sally ports are very common. There’s one door into a room, like a weather vestibule. But it’s got an electronic control so the outer door has to close before the inner door can open. That’s called a sally port. Another word for that is a “man trap.” And those are standard issue here on the East Coast. You can’t even get into the facility without passing through that and checking your ID.
There are other protections to prevent a customer in the retail space from getting into a controlled area where a budtender would be located, for example. There are certain protocols that are very different in many of the Eastern states than those in the West. There was a distinct difference in the way the laws were written. These aren’t just decisions that were made by the operators, the decisions were made by the states in how the operators should operate.
MV: How does sustainability play a factor into the architectural side of things and in the work you do for cannabis companies?
BA: Data collection is the key to energy and sustainability. We, as an industry, have to be diligent all the time and we have to refer to standards. What should a wall type be? Which air filtration should be used? These are standards that we can look up and we can apply, and the industry needs to be familiar with that. But beyond that, it’s all about data collection.
For example, you look at your energy consumption, harvest after harvest, and you look at your production levels, harvest after harvest. What were the deltas? What was the high level of humidity? What was the lowest level of humidity in that room over that harvest? And we can compare the relative humidity, the temperature, and the intersection of those two things — the vapor pressure deficit. We can compare the technical parameters of a room to the output. And then we check the meter. What does the meter tell us about how much gas we consume, how much electricity we consume?
It’s really hard to do that if you’re writing with a pencil in a spiral-bound notebook, or if you’re just trying to remember all that data. So recording that data through a building management system is crucial.
That’s the level that we all need to reach as an industry to achieve sustainability. Much of our industry is crippled because nobody wants to share their
data. They think of it as proprietary. I can’t tell you that. The answer should be “Yes, let’s share that data.”
One of the pieces about our industry is that we could share more data in order to help combat climate change. And that’s a weird thing to say, but you can see where I’m going. People can share and understand how to run lights for a harvest cycle. And how many grams of plant matter does that produce? What’s the most efficacious way to do that? Then we can all do better.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.