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New Jersey Awaits Marijuana Waste Disposal Requirements

Marijuana leaf on a garbage can

As New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana industry expands, and the recreational use legislation continues to be fine-tuned by the state legislators, requirements for the disposal of waste from marijuana operations will play an important part in the regulation of the industry. New Jersey’s proposed recreational use legislation does not require that any specific waste practices be implemented; rather it merely requires cultivation and dispensary applicants to provide a waste disposal plan with the application. Presumably, as with similar with other highly regulated industries within New Jersey, proposed regulations for the New Jersey marijuana industry will provide specific requirements or best practices for marijuana waste disposal. Other states that have already legalized recreational use of marijuana have failed to provide clear regulations or best practices for marijuana waste disposal. For example, click here or here or here.

Marijuana operations implicate environmental issues, including worker safety, air quality, composting, wastewater disposal, and hazardous and solid waste disposal. Industry innovation processes (i.e., Kind ReDesigned’s Bokashi fermentation waste disposal), new equipment (i.e., Alpine Waste and Recycling’s compactor), and new technologies (i.e., Sesh Technologies Manufacturing’s rosin press) should play a role in the development of waste regulations.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance pursuant to the federal Controlled Substances Act, and waste byproducts may still contain regulated substances. Marijuana operations will likely not be able to dispose of its waste byproducts like other types of common commercial or industrial waste. If thrown into the regular trash, marijuana waste may be subject to law enforcement search and seizure without a warrant and can even poison animals that rummage through it. Some businesses use hazardous chemicals to extract cannabis oil from plants, and those cannot be flushed down the drain. Considering that New Jersey is not the first state to jump on the marijuana legalization bandwagon, future New Jersey regulations will likely utilize waste disposal successes from other states. Moreover, New Jersey has a long history of studying the waste management industry to determine what works and what does not work.

For example, in the state of Washington, marijuana 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 “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 to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board prior to disposal at a permitted solid waste facility.

Colorado requirements are similar in that wastes from cannabis operations that contain hazardous substances used during processing are treated as typical hazardous waste. With respect to nonhazardous wastes, Colorado requires processors to render them “unusable and unrecognizable” by grinding them and incorporating them into 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 products, 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, which includes disposal requirements. Under the Las Vegas ordinance, operators must store, manage and dispose of all cannabis and waste material consistently with state requirements. Waste cannabis must be rendered unusable and must 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; others may include recycling cannabis for fertilizers or biofuels and then selling it back to cannabis businesses. Some operators also reuse solvents in a closed-loop extraction system.

Those who wish to operate cultivation and dispensary facilities or provide support services, like waste disposal, should be closely tracking the proposed legislation for recreational use and regulation, as New Jersey’s marijuana industry continues to grow in the months and year ahead.

If you have any questions about this post or any other related matters, please contact me at wjbeneduce@norris-law.com.