Reading the Tea Leaves on Medical Marijuana Solid Waste Regulation in Michigan

It's good for the flu
Good for asthma
Good for tuberculosis
Even numara thrombosis

Got to legalize it
Don't criticize it

Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it

“Legalize it”Peter Tosh

Passed in the fall of 2016, Michigan House Bills 4209, 4827 and 4210 (now, Public Acts 281-283 of 2016) clarify the voter-approved use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. (While the Legislature uses the term “marihuana,” the industry prefers the term “cannabis”).

Additionally, the new legal regime requires the development of regulations governing growing, possessing, transporting, dispensing and safety compliance for medicinal cannabis operations. Future regulations in Michigan include requirements for the disposal of waste from cannabis operations.

Depending on the particular activity, cannabis operations implicate environmental issues, including worker safety, air emissions, composting, wastewater disposal, hazardous and solid waste disposal and even climate change. The focus of this blog entry is disposal of wastes from cannabis businesses.

Cannabis remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance pursuant to the federal Controlled Substances Act and waste byproducts may still contain regulated substances. Cannabis operations will likely not be able to dispose of its waste byproducts like any other type of common commercial or industrial waste. If tossed out like regular garbage, it can be subject to search and seizure without a warrant and can reportedly even poison stray animals. Some businesses use hazardous chemicals to extract cannabis oil from plants, which cannot simply be flushed down the drain.

So, what will Michigan’s regulatory regime look like when it comes to disposal of cannabis wastes? Medicinal cannabis is decriminalized in some form in 28 states. Future regulations in Michigan will likely borrow heavily from other jurisdictions that have experience in dealing with cannabis, whether medicinal or recreational.

For example, the state of Washington regulates the disposal of plant wastes from cannabis activities. Operators must determine if their wastes, including solid plant waste, waste solvents, discarded plant wastes and solvents, and extracts that fail quality testing meet the definition of “dangerous wastes.” The state identifies what specific solvents a processor can use.

Under Washington law, in addition to waste contaminated by hazardous substances, wastes containing in excess of 10 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (i.e., the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis) are considered a “state-only” dangerous wastes. Wastes that are not “dangerous” must be rendered unusable, using a variety of techniques, like grinding and incorporating it into other waste materials. The operation must also provide 72-hour notice prior to disposal at a permitted solid waste facility to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB).

Colorado requirements are similar in that they treat wastes from cannabis operations that contain hazardous substances used during processing as typical hazardous waste. With respect to nonhazardous wastes, Colorado requires processors to render waste products “unusable and unrecognizable” by grinding it and incorporating it into other non-cannabis-related wastes so the mixture is no more than 50 percent cannabis waste. This waste product can then be disposed of in a secured receptacle for disposal at a solid waste site or deposited at a compost facility. The operator must also track the waste, by weighing it and keeping records of the disposition of all cannabis related product not only from “seed to sale,” but from seed to disposal.

Michigan’s medicinal cannabis statute provides some measure of local control. Local governments in other jurisdictions have exerted some control over operations, including disposal and storage of wastes. For example, Las Vegas passed an ordinance to regulate cannabis businesses within its jurisdictional boundaries that include disposal requirements. Michigan municipalities may follow suit.

Under the Las Vegas ordinance, operators must store, manage and dispose all cannabis and waste material consistently with state requirements. Waste cannabis must be rendered unusable and leave the facility within 10 days. Las Vegas specifically bars any cannabis product or plant material from its wastewater collection system, storm drains or unsecured garbage disposal.

Looking beyond operators of cannabis businesses, other requirements may apply to the entities that collect the waste and dispose of it, perhaps even adopting a licensed vendor system to identify qualifying companies. Disposal or composting may also not be the only acceptable means by which to dispose of waste, by recycling cannabis for fertilizers or biofuels and then sold back to cannabis businesses. Some operators also reuse solvents in a closed-loop extraction system.

Over the next year, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) will be developing regulations governing cannabis operations and business that support such activities. LARA will issue the rules in draft for public notice and comment. Those who wish to operate facilities or provide support services, like waste disposal, should keep a close eye on how these rules develop and provide input before they become final.

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