When it comes to medical marijuana and its cultivation, the public’s impression might best be exemplified by Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, wherein comic strip characters Zonker and Zipper enjoy a laidback life growing “weed,” more or less as they have all their lives—but now legally, on a grander scale, and unfettered by government.
Nothing could be further from reality.
The regulations impacting medical marijuana cultivation are specific to the 29 states that have legalized it, which is complicating enough. But since cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, state rules controlling its cultivation tend to be imposing and onerous, especially concerning hazardous waste management.
Medical Marijuana and Hazardous Waste Removal
Waste generated from cannabis cultivation differs radically from other kinds of commercial or industrial byproducts requiring hazardous waste disposal. This is because such waste might contain regulated substances under federal law. Treated as regular garbage, cannabis waste can be subject to search and seizure—without a warrant—instigating a costly legal nightmare.
Aside from these federally imposed impediments, spent chemicals used to extract plant oils might themselves require hazardous waste removal. And residual tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s euphoric and medicinal effects—can poison animals and have adverse effects on the local ecology if improperly disposed.
Colorado Regulations as an Example
For instance, in Colorado, where Zonker and Zipper placidly ply their fictional agribusiness, the state M.E.D. (aka Marijuana Enforcement Department) requires all cannabis waste to be rendered unrecognizable and unusable, combined with other waste so the resulting mixture is at least 50 percent marijuana free, and secured in a locked container.
As well, any instance of cannabis hazardous waste disposal must be entered into a written log for the current year, citing the specific individual responsible for that instance, along with the weight, time, and date of its occurrence.
The written log must be extant fully three years afterward for viewing upon demand by various authorities. In addition, information entered into the log must be redundantly e-filed onto an MEC website created for that purpose.
It’s Just Not Colorado
Because of the localized nature of hazardous waste enforcement, byproducts from marijuana production and processing must be evaluated against state and regional regulations as well as federal ones. Typically, jurisdictions within and across states consider marijuana flowers, trim, roots, stalks, leaves, and residue to require hazardous waste removing.
Wastewater generated during marijuana production and processing is also considered a hazardous waste. (If a cannabis byproduct is determined to be nonhazardous, it’s usually only subject to the applicable standards for nonhazardous waste.)
The Political Realities
Given that the major contaminant in cannabis byproducts is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, the case for extreme caution and expert advice is intensified.
The Trump administration has cast a wary eye toward medical marijuana. Tightening federal enforcement of eco-laws that directly affect hazardous waste handling of cannabis byproducts can be a politically expedient way to thwart the growth of marijuana cultivation without directly addressing the hot-button issues that surround it, whether pro or con.
In sum, commercial marijuana cultivation is wrought with regulatory hazards, and arguably more so than any other category of agribusiness requiring hazardous waste disposal. Thereby, the need for extra caution and expert advice is crucial.