Passing the Sniff Test: Odor-Minimizing Technology Proliferating in Cannabis Industry as Complaints Rise

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By Marijuana Business Daily staff

High Valley Farms has tried several methods to quell the odors coming from its cultivation facility that sits 20 miles outside of Aspen, Colorado, amid frequent complaints from neighbors.

But doing so effectively proved difficult, time-consuming and costly.

So far this year, it’s employed a mist-vapor system and a dry-vapor system, both of which emit their own odors that some local residents find offensive, founder and chief executive Jordan Lewis told county commissioners at a recent meeting.

“We have not for a moment rested on our laurels,” Lewis recently told county commissioners, who had threatened to not renew High Valley’s cultivation licenses if it couldn’t contain the strong smell of cannabis coming from its grow operation. “We have 10 people working on this full time.”

Odors from cultivation facilities are becoming an increasingly contentious issue between cannabis growers, the municipalities they call home and residents who live nearby.

Marijuana business owners in many states will at the very least have to consider installing expensive technology designed to abate the smell emanating from their facilities or risk alienating of their neighbors, and ultimately, losing favor with local lawmakers.

Medford, Oregon, where only home-growers are allowed to cultivate marijuana, earlier this year adopted a policy that said the smell from cannabis plants cannot interfere with neighbors’ daily lives. People in Union, Oregon, have complained about the odor from marijuana being grown in the city, leading the town’s city council to consider an ordinance similar to the one passed in Medford.

Technology to mitigate drifting odors is available, including hydroxyl systems some sites are implementing. But they take time to install and are, upon first blush, expensive.

Scott Shank, a purification engineer for Puradigm, a company that sells and installs hydroxyl systems but isn’t working with High Valley, said the system floods the area with ions that are negatively charged, which bond with organic material and eliminate everything from mold to fungus to smells. It then either weighs down the ions, or they’re sucked into a ventilation system, he said.

The technology costs from $1 to $3 per square foot to implement, Shank said.

“It can be perceived as expensive up front, but ongoing operation is inexpensive,” he said. “But expensive compared to what? When you compare it to having to close down shop and make no money, it’s a viable solution.”

One alternative to installing hydroxyl technologies is to purchase a high-end heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, he said.

Regardless of which system companies implement, odor-eating technology will become more important as the industry grows and cultivation facilities spring up closer to residential areas, Shank said.

“In Denver, there are some neighborhoods where there are a lot of grows, and the smell is in the ambient air,” he said. “There’s no escaping it, so I’m a bit surprised cities haven’t tried to regulate it a bit tighter.”

Near Aspen, the smell has gotten so bad that people living in the Holland Hills neighborhood near High Valley’s grow site no longer invite friends and family to enjoy the mountain air, said Kent Schuler, a resident and real estate broker. At least one new homeowner has told him that had he known the smell would be so bad, he wouldn’t have bought in the area.

“I just bought a new grill for barbecuing and I’ve only used it twice,” he said. “It’s a drifting cloud, is what I’d call it, from their huge facility into our community. I don’t want to invite people over.”

Fortunately, local commissioners ended up voting in favor of renewing High Valley’s licenses, though it took the company considerable time and effort to ease their concerns about odors.

Jennifer Martin, a cultivation consultant and industry analyst, said when she speaks with potential cannabis cultivators, smell mitigation isn’t high on their priority list, but she agrees with Shank that it will have to be part of the conversation going forward.

That said, anybody living near a grow facility will have to expect a certain amount of smell just like those living near water filtration plants or in areas where tobacco, for example, is grown. What actions municipalities take will range, depending on how many people complain, she said.

“It’s really going to vary from region to region,” Martin said. “In areas like northern California there’s not going to be an issue because there isn’t much of a clash of cultures going on, but in more conservative areas there is. But anybody who lives near (an area zoned for marijuana cultivation) is going to have to understand what goes on there. I don’t think there’s any way to cut down on the smell 100%.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that High Valley Farms has implemented a hydroxyl system. It has not.