Colorado as Case Study: Fire and Life Safety Issues in Marijuana Industry

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With medical and recreational marijuana initiatives getting ready to appear on ballots in multiple states, legal marijuana is poised for growth; however, as Colorado has learned, growth can prompt unexpected challenges to public safety.

On Sept. 14, 2016, the National Fire Protection Association, a non-profit fire codes and standards organization, announced that it had published the September/October issue of the NFPA Journal, highlighting fire and life safety issues related to the cultivation and processing of legal marijuana in Colorado.

In “Growing Pains,” the issue’s cover story, Jesse Roman, NFPA Journal’s associate editor, explores some of the safety issues that have arisen in conjunction with legalization in Colorado, such as fires unintentionally started by low-hanging lights, overloaded electrical circuits or explosions involving hash oil production, among many others.

“Our knowledge of the industry literally started at zero,” said Brian Lukus, a fire protection engineer with the Denver Fire Department’s marijuana inspection team. “Meanwhile, the industry went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in an instant.”

While public safety agencies were initially at a disadvantage regarding legal marijuana cultivation and processing, they have made strides to catch up with the industry.

According to Roman, several fire departments think they are closing the knowledge gap through new guidelines and revised protocols. Denver has updated its fire code to include a comprehensive chapter on marijuana facilities. Breckenridge and Boulder have implemented inspection and permitting processes and new enforcement practices to protect against the industry’s unique fire and life safety issues.

In response to Roman’s findings, “NFPA has created a task group—comprised of marijuana industry leaders, equipment manufactures, and fire officials—to craft a new chapter for NFPA 1, Fire Code, that focuses on marijuana grow and processing facilities,” as reported in “Growing Pains.”

Through the NFPA’s new task group and the lessons that continue to be learned in Colorado, the NFPA hopes to eliminate death, injury, property and financial loss due to fire and electrical hazards in the evolving marijuana industry.

The staff byline designates content that has been written by a staff writer of MJINews.

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