Marijuana Legalization in Colorado Not Without its Growing Pains

Since the implementation of Amendment 64 in Colorado, marijuana-related concerns have been on the rise amongst state residents and lawmakers alike.marijuana leaf

Recently, a legislative bill intended to set a marijuana blood limit for drivers was vetoed in the Colorado Senate. Now, one question being asked by lawmakers is how to ensure public safety without a lawful blood driving limit to determine if a driver is stoned – OR NOT!

Proponents of the bill say a blood limit is necessary. Impaired driving, whether it be alcohol or cannabis, is illegal. Period.

Opponents of the bill voice concern about the recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that mandates police (in most cases!) to attain a warrant before taking a blood sample.

Claims Journal Excerpt (April 24, 2013)
The bill’s failure underscored the difficulty policymakers nationwide have had addressing drugged driving. Unlike alcohol, marijuana stays in the blood long after the high wears off, and there is no quick test to determine someone’s level of impairment. The White House has asked states to set a blood-level standard upon which to base drugged-driving convictions but has not said what that limit should be.”

Another concern in the aftermath of marijuana legalization, are the challenges of operating a “grow room” on a legitimate business level and within a structurally-compatible environment.

At issue: since the growing of marijuana is federally illegal (but legal by state law!) grow rooms are often shrouded in secrecy for fear that the federal government will intervene and prosecute. For this reason, the facilities that house these grow rooms are leased in most cases and not designed to be used for this purpose. The leased building is used until the proprietor moves on, at which point the building and any problems that may have developed as a result of the previous occupation are inherited by the property owner. Many of these grow rooms are located in warehouses designed as either unconditioned or semi-conditioned spaces. The tenants or growers may not understand the possible damage they could be causing to a building without a properly designed space. They are there for the quick dollar and typically pay a premium rent due to the type of business they conduct.

Pie’s Dustin Smoot, RRC, RRO, LEED AP, recently authored an article that investigated proper grow room conditions and the importance of building structure suitability for this type of industry.

The nature of growing marijuana involves operating in conditions of high humidity. This atypical environment can wreak havoc on a structure built for other enterprises. Some of the tenants I have come into contact with would not mind spending the money to fix the problem correctly, but they feel that it is too much of a gamble for them to invest such a significant amount due to the fact that their business is still federally illegal, and the government could shut them down at any time. These tenants are looking for a temporary repair that will last them a year or two until their lease is up. In most cases, there is no easy repair. By the time the problem is discovered, it is usually too late, because the damage has been done.

GROW ROOM CONDITIONS

The conditions of these grow rooms are nearly identical to those of an indoor pool. Temperatures between 75º and 85°F (24°C to 30°C) and relative humidity (RH) values between 60% and 65% or higher cause an elevated dew point temperature. This elevated level of humidity comes from the natural transpiration of the plants themselves. When plants are flowering, transpiration— the release of water vapor through their leaves—is at its peak. The high levels of relative humidity can lead to condensation on building components. Most buildings have not been designed to handle the resulting temperature gradient, moisture migration via air movement, and vapor diffusion from interior to exterior space. Elevated temperatures, together with the higher RH, are even more detrimental in cold climates where winter temperatures are cooler for longer periods of time. This causes the vapor drive to be directed from inside to outside, where it can be trapped within the wall/roof, or the wall/roof components can be exposed to this condition for a longer period of time before it can naturally dry out. This makes proper building envelope design very important.

POSSIBLE DAMAGE

marijuana content image 1

Photo #1: Very high moisture content. The surface of
the wood was wet.

Elevated temperature and RH can produce an ideal environment for the propagation of biological growth and an increased likelihood of building material deterioration. This can range from moldy drywall and insulation facer to deteriorated structural components. This can not only cause health issues from poor indoor air quality, but can make the structure susceptible to further damage from the elements.

There are three conditions required for biological growth: moisture, warmth, and organics. All of these conditions were present in the grow room structures that were investigated. This indicates a high likelihood of biological growth development within these buildings, much of which may be hidden from view within a wall or roof system. The interior operating conditions, building design, and materials within the ceiling/ wall system dictate the amount of damage that can develop and the rate at which deterioration and biological growth begins.

marijuana content image 2

Photo #2: Adequately ventilated space has moisture
content well within acceptable range.

With increased moisture also comes an accelerated rate of building material deterioration. Untreated wood should never be subjected to moisture levels over 20%, due to deterioration. Other roof decks of particular concern are Tectum™ or gypsum roof decks. These roof decks were never intended to be subjected to high humidity environments and can easily be weakened by the absorption of moisture.

As for wall systems, the use of wood in walls can deteriorate and propagate biological growth, and masonry wall systems are particularly susceptible to damage when freeze/thaw conditions exist.

Read the entire article here.

dustin smoot headshotAbout Dustin Smoot, RRC, RRO, LEED AP

Dustin Smoot, RRC, RRO, LEED AP, is a forensic specialist with Pie Consulting & Engineering, providing forensic engineering services involving building envelope components. Smoot’s technical expertise includes forensic investigation and assessment of damage from weather, construction defects, and product failures. His experience also includes the preparation of bidding documents, peer reviews with recommendations, and quality assurance observation. By working as a contractor, an observer, a consultant, and a designer, Smoot has gained extensive knowledge in building envelope systems design, construction, and failure analysis.

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