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Owners, growers, and design teams: collaborating for success

Cannabis is an industry still very much in its infancy stages. For owners desiring to develop facilities, the level of success will be directly tied to project planning and development. There is a myriad of challenges faced by owners including state laws and regulations, the experience of team members, and the processes defined by the owner for project development.

The complexity of regulations
Cannabis is an industry currently regulated by the state, rather than the federal government. Each state that legalizes cannabis establishes their own governing agencies with their own laws, regulations, policies and guidelines. While on many fronts these policies are very similar, there are also areas of distinct difference.  These include things like quantifying the allowable canopy, building pressurization, required licenses for various applications, separation of space and workers, limitations on power consumption, conformance with cGMP standards, and defining parameters for mechanical systems (often the most costly component of cultivation projects).

Cannabis companies are also vastly different.  A great majority are single state operators. Even more are small operations of 20,000 square feet or less. The larger operators are generally multi-state, with multiple licenses, and large-scale facilities Owners and investors, on every level, come from diverse backgrounds with a variety of experience. Larger operators generally include on their team individuals who are versed in facility development. Yet most small and mid-size companies don’t have this level of expertise on their team.  Small to mid-size owner-operators are often further limited by a general lack of cannabis industry knowledge. 

A knowledge-based business
“Facility development and cannabis industry expertise are obviously two areas of critical importance when developing a facility which will be expected to be profitable,” Sam Andras, MJ12 Design Studio CEO, explains. MJ12 Design Studio is an architectural interior firm specialized in cannabis facility design. “Based on their limited knowledge of the industry, and specifically cultivation, many owners will lean heavily on their grower to define the parameters by which the facility will be designed. In many cases, the architect has little to no cannabis experience; thereby, the architect is also relying on the grower to define the parameters and even the functional workflow.”

Key components
Growers can generally be divided into two groups based on experience: large scale and small scale. “Those that have experience operating large facilities (>30,000 sf) generally have an understanding of scalable systems, have experience with multiple cultivation methodologies, carry a better understanding of facility flow, and stronger understanding of room sizing and the need for support spaces than those growers who come from smaller operations,” he points out. “Yet many times, even these highly experienced growers have no understanding of key components that may be essential to compliant operations and ultimately profitability. These may include designs meeting cGMP standards, the use of technology and systems focused on lowering operational costs, operational flow/function within all divisions, flexibility of systems as related to potential operational changes, and impact on designing when planning for future growth.”

Project implementation is equally important to the success of any project. Available funding, or expectations of cost associated with facility development and operations, is many times defined long before corporations establish their vision. This can lead to major issues if all factors impacting vision/design alignment aren’t considered. Proper implementation includes detailed schedule development. The best results always are derived from a well-planned and properly scheduled process. In many cases, the schedule is best developed working backwards from a defined or desired operational date.  Utilizing this approach will clearly indicate if proper timelines have been allotted for each phase of the project while also allowing for fast-track planning to be developed if timelines are limited.

“The experience of the design team, architect and engineers, must be considered when discussing a framework for success. As Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience”.  Couple this statement with Oscar Wilde’s, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” and it’s easy to understand why experience is a requirement for success,” Sam observes. “Architects and engineers who have worked in multiple states with a variety of different organizations will generally contribute a much deeper understanding of what has proven to work in a given context. These firms will generally have a strong understanding of the diversity of cultivation methodologies available within the industry, along with the pros and cons of each as related to specific corporate goals and vision. Design teams with substantial experience can discuss materials and systems, and their associated costs, to support proactive planning and implementation. This experience also translates into a greater understanding of functional flow, space sizing, and operational needs.”

Overcoming obstacles
With the above information, it’s easy to see many of the obstacles faced by owners in the design of facilities. The easiest way to overcome these obstacles is to clearly define organizational needs/goals and assign team member responsibility based on experience. To best understand the experience level of each team member questionnaires can be developed focused on needs.  The team will then include all individuals necessary to define all aspects of the project, including a team member responsible to lead the process.  Once the team is established project development should occur utilizing a collaborative approach such as “integrated design”.

“Integrated design is the process by which all team members work collaboratively throughout project development,” Sam remarks. “The team can include stakeholders, owners, operators, project managers, construction managers, design teams, and others identified by the owner as integral to the facility’s design. Every meeting should include all team members. Information is shared in a collaborative environment focused on utilizing the experience and knowledge of each team member in the development of the project. Implementation of the above process, with experienced team members on all required levels, will ensure owners the highest level of success for their projects.”

For more information:
Mj12 Design Studio
7430 East Caley Ave
Suite 280E
Centennial, CO 80111