Sarah Climaco

Cannabis Lab Safety: What Investors Need to Know

Entrepreneurs in the cannabis space will know that opportunities within the industry are always changing. What was once a highly profitable niche yesterday has suddenly become oversaturated (and far less profitable) today. There’s certainly no shortage of money pouring into the market, and hungry new investors are ready to throw cash behind any new opportunity that looks like it will achieve greater-than-average returns.

Today, commercial laboratories for extraction are an increasingly attractive option for new investors. You could say that the shift in industry opportunities has gone from growing, to genetics, to extracts, to equipment, peripherals and supply companies — and the industry keeps on evolving. New niches spring up every day, and thousands of competitors readily jump on whatever appears to be the latest money-making trend.

In short, more and more unqualified entrepreneurs are now finding themselves in the position of building a large, and potentially dangerous, laboratory.

A recipe for chaos

Extreme investor hunger, a strong desire for newcomers to enter one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial spaces out there, and a shocking lack of scientific knowledge can, however, create a recipe for disaster.

There’s a strong perception amongst outsiders that the cannabis industry offers “easy” money. But, like any gold rush, the easy targets have largely been picked clean. There are ways to make more money, but they are increasingly more complicated and scientific in nature.

Does anyone even remember chemistry 101!?

We believe that education is the responsibility of every would-be lab owner. Just because you can afford an F-16, doesn’t mean you know how to pilot one. And in our space, just because someone can afford top-of-the-line laboratory equipment, it doesn’t mean they know how to operate it correctly.

Yet, for some reason, people invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in building laboratories with absolutely no knowledge of the science behind these complicated processes, or how these machines actually work. They don’t know the dangers, they don’t know the common pitfalls, and the desire to do things correctly is outweighed by the desire to make money fast.

Safe and successful

So, what are some of the “unsexy” parts of running a commercial lab? Here’s a small sampling of things any would-be lab owner should be concerned about:

  • Hair length – Are you going to set your hair on fire?
  • Proper footwear – Sandals, slippers, and open-toed shoes won’t cut it.
  • Pants – denim or better is desired, avoid plastic/workout pants, “fabletics” and more. What would happen if you spilled acid on any of your clothing?
  • Do you have an eyewash station?
    • …a fire extinguisher?
    • …a mercury clean-up kit?
    • …the right gloves?
    • …a spill containment platform?
  • And what about chemical disposal?
  • Can you store potentially volatile chemicals properly?
  • Does your space need ventilation? If so, what type and how much?
  • Do you meet all the right electrical requirements?

These are just a small sampling of the many, many issues that irresponsible lab owners ignore.

Of course, when people accidentally set something on fire — or worse — ignorance is often to blame. A small group of thoughtless, money-hungry people can give a bad name to cannabis as a whole and paint the picture of an incompetent industry.

Yet, serious people know that understanding the extensive safety requirements of a commercial laboratory is absolutely essential.

Financial consequences of improper lab build-outs

In addition to the issues that can cause damage to persons or property, there are many decisions a lab builder must make about what equipment to buy.

Decisions like:

  • What’s the desired/expected capacity?
  • Are you going to routinely push under-qualified equipment beyond its capacity?
  • How long will you run your equipment without a break?
  • Do all the individual components match up?
  • Is the hardware reliable? UL/ETL listed?
  • Are you providing the right vacuum level for your runs?
  • and much more.

Failure to get any/all of these right could at best result in a massive loss of money/investment, and of course, could have potentially dire consequences. And yet we see people doing this every day. We see people opting for the most economical piece of equipment over the safest time and again. We see people rushing into an industry they know nothing about. And of course, we see massive failures – and even personal injury – all around us.

But there’s hope! Because, of course, all of these things can be avoided by people who are willing to put in the time to do it right. So I beg you, don’t try to do this alone. Don’t try to do this by yourself. Don’t go for the cheapest option or the minimum viable solution.

What should I do?

At the very least, contact a reputable company with experience in the space. Find people who’ve built out numerous laboratories before with an extensive track record. If you’re going to buy equipment, make sure it’s from a company that won’t up-sell you things you don’t need. Don’t go for “one-size-fits-all” solutions — make sure that your lab is tailored to your exact space, budget, and requirements.

And of course, if you’re not well-versed in all of the problem areas listed above, hire a contractor to do it for you. Avoid fly-by-night operations, and follow the only maxim that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

At the end of the day, it’s about common sense. And yet, again, it’s not as common as we’d hope.

If you want to have a chance of surviving in this increasingly complicated industry, give yourself and your lab the best possible chance of survival. Don’t go it alone.

Note: This article was contributed by Ross Palmer, the head of digital marketing for Lab Society.

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