State eyes marijuana permitting

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Adhering to marijuana-related laws set forth by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency and municipalities is just half the battle for Michigan growers and processors.

The rapid growth of the marijuana industry is forcing the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to keep pace with educating businesses about the environmental laws that govern the industry.

Kaitlyn Leffert, an environmental quality analyst for EGLE, said although the department has regular meetings with the MRA, it does not have input into each marijuana license application.

“The industry is growing pretty fast and facilities are getting licensed pretty fast, so our main focus right now is just education and getting these facilities aware that they are subject to environmental regulations and getting into that conversation of how they can come into compliance,” she said.

Leffert said the marijuana industry is required to follow environmental laws just like any other industry in the state, and some of those laws require permits.

Most of those permits revolve around air quality, water resources, land use, waste and management.

Marijuana processors most likely are required to have an air use permit called Permit to Install (PTI), which is a state license to emit air contaminants into the atmosphere. Processors that use solvents, cleaning materials in processing operations, natural gas-fired boilers, emergency generators or other things that are used to extract THC may need a PTI, she said.

According to EGLE, the best way to determine whether a PTI is required is by calculating what’s called the Potential to Emit (PTE), which is the potential maximum amount of contaminant a facility may emit. Once the amount is calculated, the Air Quality Division’s district office will determine whether a PTI is needed.

Varnum LLP partner and litigation attorney Kyle Konwinski said water is a big component of the environmental laws that marijuana growers and processors need to follow.

“Growers need to use a lot of water,” he said. “If you are withdrawing a lot of water from the ground, just like anyone else with a well, you need permits to do so once you hit certain thresholds, which is 100,000 gallons of water per day.”

Growers withdrawing more than 100,000 gallons of water per day must report their annual water use to either the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development or EGLE. Growers also can use municipal water rather than groundwater.

In addition to water sources, marijuana growers and processors also need to consider the type of land their facility is on.

“You have to be extremely cautious if you are in what is called a wetland,” Konwinski said. “Whether it is a processing facility or a growing area, you need a permit if you are in a wetland. If you are within 500 feet of a lake or stream and you are disturbing one or more acres of land, you need a certain type of permit. You might need a stormwater permit. If you have a big processing warehouse and you have a lot of stormwater that runs off your building or parking lot and it goes into a stream, river or lake or wetland, you need a stormwater permit. If you are changing the topography or building something within a floodplain, you need a floodplain permit.”

Another element of water use, Leffert said, is water discharge. She said water can become contaminated if a facility is using chemicals such as fertilizers and solvents. The contaminated water should not just be discharged into the storm-water system, but instead needs to be treated.

Leffert said if marijuana growers and processors are generating hazardous waste that is ignitable, corrosive, reactive or toxic, disposing of those materials improperly or sending them to a landfill can be a violation.

According to MRA rules, the proper disposal of marijuana plants and stalks must render them unusable and unrecognizable, which is achieved by grinding and mixing the waste with other non-plant waste such as soil, paper or regular trash.

As the marijuana industry grows, Leffert said, EGLE is trying to make fledgling entrepreneurs aware there are other rules and permits that growers and processors need before they even open a facility.

“Right now, we are just playing catch-up because the industry is growing fast,” she said. “So, we just want to get the industry on the same page as us in that they are subject to these regulations and they have to be aware of them. We are trying to let people be aware of this before they are in violation.”

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