Setting up a new cannabis processing facility from scratch can be a daunting task.
“There’s a myriad of ways that people can go wrong setting up these facilities, from selecting the wrong equipment to selecting the wrong building,” explains Kellan Finney, the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Eighth Revolution, a private intelligence agency serving the international cannabis and hemp industries. “Every single step along the way, needs to have a lot of forethought.”
After moving from startup companies to the largest tier-three cultivation company in Washington, Finney co-founded Eighth Revolution with marketing entrepreneur Bryan Fields. Eighth Revolution provides intelligence and consulting on all things post-cultivation, from building and selecting appropriate facilities, instrument selection, and compliance with industry standards, to capital acquisition and strategic planning.
“A lot of people jump into this space,” Finney tells Analytical Cannabis. “They hear that it’s the green rush. They’re excited, they want to build out industrial scale extraction facility, but a lot of people don’t understand that just because it’s got this hemp or cannabis name associated with it, doesn’t mean that it’s not a very complex chemical process.”
Common mistakes to avoid
As Finney points out, cannabis is a particularly scientific endeavor. A large-scale cannabis processing facility functionally operates as an industrial scale chemical refinery, and as such, it needs to be managed by staff with that appropriate level of chemical and scientific expertise.
A cannabis processing facility which focuses on cannabis extraction will most likely, depending on the extraction technique being used, involve the use of some hazardous chemicals or complex scientific equipment which requires training and relevant technical know-how to operate. Other facilities might also conduct in-house testing of the cannabis that enters the facility, which also requires the services of trained analytical chemists to properly interpret the test results.
“[The] first thing you need is people on your team with chemistry experience,” explains Finney. “So, the biggest mistake I see is that a lot of people jump into this, they’re entrepreneurs and they have a lot of faith in their ability to go figure things out. And, yes, they can figure it out. But there’s a significant cost associated with figuring things out in the sciences. That would be the biggest obstacle hurdle that I see from the very beginning.”
As well as selecting the right personnel, it’s equally important to select the right equipment.
Just as with any industry that produces consumable products, the cannabis industry must follow good manufacturing practice (GMP) and good laboratory practice (GLP) guidelines, and other similar quality stipulations. These guidelines include rules dictating what equipment is and is not suitable for use in various applications
“If you’re not aware of [GMP], at the very beginning, then you can select equipment that will never ever be able to be GMP certified, so that you could go through the entire process of building a lab, getting equipment into it, starting your operation, then go to become cGMP [current GMP] certified. And you can’t because the extraction vessel isn’t made out of the proper material to allow you to become cGMP certified.”
“Those are the biggest things that we’re trying to help individuals and entrepreneurs getting into this space to avoid, because it’s just a bad look for the whole industry,” Finney says.
Taking the time to set the right standard
With the right equipment and appropriate expertise, facilities are more able to ensure that their products are up to standard.
“Right now, unfortunately, because you have individuals in these startup companies that don’t have the scientific know-how and savvy and are potentially bad actors, there is that inherent risk that they’re putting out a lower quality product,” Finney explains. “Because they don’t have that scientific knowledge, so they’re not going through the proper steps in from a QAQC [quality assurance/quality control] standpoint.”
Of course, cannabis itself is still a fairly nascent industry, and rigorous uniform standards and guidelines are still being developed. The National Institute of Standards (NIST) is currently working to provide laboratories with the references standards they need to perform analysis, Finney says, and the independent lab standards organization AOAC International has founded a cannabis analytical science group to research standardized prep and analysis methods for different cannabis products.
“There’s not going to be like a switch that flips and all of a sudden now, we have standards for everything,” he says. “It’s happening, but it’s going to take time. And these organizations move slowly because they want to get it right.”
“I see a really, really bright future [for the cannabis industry]. We’re trending in the right direction, and I think in the next five years it’s got a really, really bright future.”
“A lot of the scientists in the industry are trying to do the right thing and they’re working their butts off to put out high quality work to protect the consumer. And so I think in five years, the consumer is going to be the individual that’s reaping the rewards from all the hard work that the scientific community is putting in right now.”