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Business

Iowa officials work with medical marijuana manufacturers to control smell

New Cedar Rapids facility plans technology to 'nearly eliminate all odors'

Cannabis plants grow Tuesday inside the mother room at MedPharm Iowa in Des Moines. MedPharm was the first of two companies to get state licenses to manufacture medical marijuana products. A second company will build a facility in Cedar Rapids and make medical marijuana products available by July 1, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cannabis plants grow Tuesday inside the mother room at MedPharm Iowa in Des Moines. MedPharm was the first of two companies to get state licenses to manufacture medical marijuana products. A second company will build a facility in Cedar Rapids and make medical marijuana products available by July 1, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Occasionally teased for being the City of Five Smells, Cedar Rapids is taking steps to make sure another scent doesn’t become a problem when a new medical marijuana manufacturing plant starts operating.

“The strong smell of cannabis can often escape cultivation buildings and processing centers into the outside air,” said Phil Hague, director of cultivation for Acreage Holdings, the New Jersey-based company awarded a state license to manufacture medical marijuana in Cedar Rapids. “These telltale smells of growing cannabis are not always welcomed by neighbors or municipalities.”

In some states and Canadian provinces where marijuana has been legalized, the funky, skunky smell coming from cultivation facilities, both indoor and outdoor, has grown so strong residents have complained and nearby businesses have considered moving.

Two plants in Iowa

Iowa has been more cautious than other states, expanding its medical marijuana law in 2017 to allow ultralow tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, products to be sold to patients with conditions that include cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS or HIV, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and more.

Iowa has licensed just two medical marijuana manufacturing facilities — in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines — and five dispensaries that eventually will sell oils, creams, suppositories and other products to those who have state-issued registration cards.

Both Acreage Holdings, licensed June 29, and MedPharm Iowa, licensed Dec. 1 for the Des Moines plant, have invested in systems to keep the smell of marijuana from drifting into the communities.

“The main mitigation we’re using are some carbon filters installed throughout the HVAC systems,” said Lucas Nelson, general manager of outsourcing services for Kemin Industries and lead consultant for MedPharm. “We recognized from the very beginning we didn’t want it to become a problem in this area.”

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MedPharm has spent more than $10 million renovating a Kemin warehouse into a medical marijuana processing facility just east of the Capitol. The company is in the middle of its first grow cycle, with cuttings preparing to flower, Nelson said. Terpenes, the organic compounds found in many fruits and plants including marijuana, cause the smell, he said.

“Where the plants are growing, you certainly smell it (and) in the drying room, where the plants are heated up. You’ll smell it in grinding process,” Nelson said. But the final products will have very little, if any, scent, he said.

MedPharm officials met earlier this year with Jeremy Becker, air quality manager for Polk County. The county doesn’t regulate odors now, but Becker is gathering information on the best practices that could go into an ordinance for any future marijuana manufacturing operators.

“It’s pretty much industry standard to control the odors both for the workers and the outside environment,” Becker said. “I think they (MedPharm officials) have adequate controls in place.”

Des Moines also has an odor hotline that can trigger a violation process.

Nuisance ordinance includes odor

Cedar Rapids officials learned last month their city was selected as the site of Iowa’s newest medical marijuana manufacturing facility, owed by Acreage Holdings and doing business in Iowa as Iowa Relief LLC.

The company plans to build a facility at 1420 26th Ave. Court SW that will start at 10,000 square feet and employ about 20 people, according to Acreage’s application to the state. The firm already grows, processes or dispenses cannabis in 16 states. According to a state license, the Cedar Rapids facility must produce medical marijuana products by July 1, 2019.

Cedar Rapids’s nuisance ordinance prohibits “noxious exhalations, offensive smells, or other annoyances” that become “injurious and dangerous to the health, comfort or property of individuals and the public.” Linn County also has standards for odor as part of its air quality division.

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City officials know the odor emanating from marijuana cultivation has caused friction in some communities and plans to discuss this with Acreage before the facility is built, said Ken DeKeyser, Cedar Rapids development services manager.

“The city can address odor issues during the review and approval of the Administrative Site Plan and the building plans, and will follow up with code violations as necessary,” he said.

Hague, cultivation director for Acreage, told The Gazette in an email the company will use technology to “nearly eliminate all odors.”

“We run our facilities as completely static environments and have no exchange of indoor air into the outside world,” he said. “By minimizing air exchange, we are able to lessen the likelihood of odors outside of the production facilities.”

Acreage uses industrial carbon filters and bipolar ionization units, which flood the cultivation area with ions that bond to organic material and eliminate odors, Hague said.

Subjectivity of smell

As Cedar Rapidians know, smells are subjective. The food-processing bouquet in downtown Cedar Rapids is unpleasant to some, but greedily inhaled by others.

The same is true about the cinnamon smell wafting from Tone’s Spices in Ankeny, Polk County’s Becker said. “It really bugs some people, but others really like it.”

Niles, Mich., a city of 11,000 near South Bend, Ind., is trying to remove personal preference from the odor equation.

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Niles doesn’t have any industrial marijuana manufacturing facilities yet, but officials there have gotten complaints about odor coming from legal home-based growers, said City Administrator Ric Huff.

Since Michigan now is licensing its first round of industrial manufacturers, Niles officials wanted to be ready.

The city approved an ordinance that limits the level of odor coming from a manufacturing facility — as tested through an olfactory meter. These devices, which look like megaphones coming from the nose, are taken to the edge of a property line, where they recognize a scent and assign a numerical value.

“It detects the odor and places a reading for how intense it is,” Huff said.

Niles hasn’t bought its olfactory meter yet — the device costs about $3,000 and must be calibrated to an individual user’s nose — but officials are ready to proceed if the city is approved for a manufacturing facility. But Huff doesn’t expect odor testing will be done unless there is a complaint.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

 

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