The Oklahoma medical marijuana industry began in the fall of 2018, and as of this writing, is soaring every month in terms of sales and business activity. The number of consumers as well as the number of businesses continue to grow every quarter.

And with a growing industry, comes increasing government regulation, which then causes confusion (and sometimes anxiety and fear) among the small business owner who makes a living in this new cannabis economy.

This article will tackle one of the latest issues that Oklahoma cannabis growers are struggling with, and that is the issue of marijuana waste disposal.

Those who are involved in the business of commercial cannabis cultivation know that the business involves a lot of waste. For those who are unfamiliar with how large-scale grows operate, allow me to illustrate what we are talking about.

Why is there so much waste in Cannabis Cultivation?

In both indoor and outdoor grow operations, the operator is overseeing hundreds of plants, through all stages of the life cycle, which can be several months. Let’s illustrate further what it looks like in an indoor grow facility.

The grower starts with seeds. The grower plants many seeds, knowing that not all seeds will sprout. The grower plants 10 seeds, and only 4 sprout. Right there we have our first encounter with waste.

Next, the grower takes the seeds that have sprouted and puts them into a small container with soil (indoor growers usually “pop” seeds in water or small containers without soil).

The grower monitors these fragile little babies, hoping they will survive and something green with rise from the dirt. Once a green leaf has popped, we now have a plant. An incredibly fragile little plant.

The grower monitors these little seedlings, nudging them into growing into stable plants. But often times, these little guys die. Waste.

The plants that survive then grow from a tiny little seedling into something that actually resembles a plant. Now it’s time to transplant these seedlings into a larger container/pot with more soil, so the roots can grow and expand. Transplanting is stressful so. Stress increases the chances things will go wrong, and even die. Possibly more waste.

Now the plants are growing in their vegetative state. They are growing fast. They need to be pruned. The iconic weed leaf you’ve seen does not yield flower (bud). It is simply there to absorb light for photosynthesis. And your typical pot plant has a lot of fan leaves.

The grower knows what to do to maximize yield: trim off the fan leaves, and even the bottom branches that are less likely to receive a lot of light and focus on the top colas that will yield the bigger buds. Trim off the bottom half, focus on the top half. Waste.

Therefore, a primary task in cannabis cultivation is trimming. Which means lots and lots of waste.

Also, during the vegetative stage, the grower is cloning plants so that he/she does not have to resort to planting seeds again. Cloning means snipping a branch that has a “top” on it, and then planting that branch in a separate pot. If it survives, it will become a new cannabis plant. So another part of the business is maintaining a regular cloning schedule, such as cutting new clones bi-weekly. But not all clones survive. More waste.

There are two stages of photo-period cannabis plants:

  • vegetative stage, and
  • flowering stage.

Up until now, we’ve been discussing the vegetative state, where the plants are receiving more light than darkness (which mimics the summer months), and keeps the plants growing, but not flowering.

The next stage is to remove the amount of light so that the plants receive either equal or greater amount of darkness (such as in fall/autumn), and this triggers the plants to flower, which produces the bud.

In the flowering stage, the plants are even larger. Which means more trimming, and more waste.

And throughout all stages of the cannabis plant’s life cycle, the grower is battling pests and disease, which can cause plants to die. Which means more waste.

In every growth cycle, the grower will lose plants. The grower never harvests 100% of the plants he or she started with. There is always attrition. Too much water, not enough water, too much nutrients or nutrient deficiencies, mildew or mold from too much humidity, or attack from pests and mites, the grower is at war all the time, fighting to keep plants healthy and thriving. But 100% survival never happens, and therefore wasting plants is part of the business.

So now you have a clear picture of why there is an issue of waste in the cannabis cultivation. And when there is waste, there is an issue of disposal. What do you do with the waste? Throw it in the trash? Let’s discuss how Oklahoma law has addressed this issue.

Oklahoma Law allows some waste to be disposed of by the grower, but requires other forms of waste to be disposed of by a Waste Disposal Company

The Oklahoma legislature enacted new laws in 2019 that address medical marijuana waste disposal. What they did was limit what types of waste can be disposed of by the grower and what types of waste must be disposed of by a licensed waste disposal company.

Under current Oklahoma law, a medical marijuana grower can dispose of four types of waste without hiring a third-party disposal company:

  • Root balls;
  • Stems;
  • Fan leaves; and
  • Seeds

Essentially, the grower can basically dispose of anything during the Vegetative stage of cannabis. However, what is missing from that list is flowering plants and buds.

So as the grower battles disease and pests during the flowering stage, and therefore encounters attrition due to the same, the grower will now face the issue of disposing of bud rot and sick flowering plants. These are cannabis plants that have actual buds of them, but depending on the age of the plant, the buds could be tiny little pre-flowers or they could be full blown colas.

Oklahoma law requires the grower to document the amount of the waste in pounds and then to contact a licensed disposal company to pick up the wasted material.

What are legal methods of disposing of medical marijuana waste in Oklahoma?

So as long as the grower is disposing only of stems, roots, seeds, and fan leaves, the grower can destroy these by-products in-house without having to hire an independent disposal contractor.

Under the current law, the grower can use the following methods for disposal:

  • Open Burning
  • Incineration
  • Burying
  • Mulching
  • Composting
  • Any other method approved by the Department of Environmental Quality

However, the grower must abide by local laws. So if the grow facility is within city limits, it is very likely there is a local ordinance that prohibits open burning of trash. But rural growers may not have those same limitations.

If the grower chooses the method of “mulching” the waste, the grower may then remit that waste to a normal dump site or trash disposal.

Oklahoma Cannabis Growers must document their waste disposal in writing and maintain records.

Oklahoma law requires that growers document the amount of waste in writing. That means that your grow facility should keep a written log. Here are the steps your grow facility should take.

Before disposing of the waste (i.e. before you burn it, mulch it, etc.), the grow technician should first weigh the waste and document the weight in pounds.

  • On the written log, first record the date.
  • Then, write down the weight, in pounds, rounding to the third decimal.
  • Next, write down the method of disposal (did you incinerate it, mulch it, bury it, etc).
  • Last, the grow technician should sign off on it. This way, the grow facility has a log as to which employee handled the waste that day.

The reason for the last point is because of a section in the law that states: “Such documentation shall contain a witness affidavit and signature attesting to the lawful disposal of the medical marijuana waste under penalty of perjury.” Title 63, Section 429, Okla. Statutes.

The grow facility should maintain these logs for a period of five years.

Is the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Waste Management Act good policy?

All law first begins with policy; that is, the reason for the law. Laws are meant to solve problems. First, identify the problem. Then come up with a solution. The question of whether a law is good policy deals with whether the rule actually addresses the underlying problem.

In the case of medical marijuana disposal, the position of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is that such waste could hit the streets and further contribute to the black market.

However, consider what exactly would have to happen. Scouts for the Black Market would simulate a homeless person and go dumpster diving for composted and mulched bud rot. That’s right. The material being wasted is bud rot and plant material infected with other disease, such as powdery mildew and spider mites. And while those products could still be smoked and consumed, they could not be after utilization of one of the prescribed legal methods (composting, mulching, incineration, etc).

Therefore, it is the position of this law firm that the Oklahoma Waste management Act is not good policy, because it requires a grower to resort to additional expense in hiring an outside company to dispose of certain by products that could easily and safely be disposed of in-house.

Nevertheless, the law is the law, and if you intend to last in this business, you will need to comply with rule and document your compliance.

Contact Us for Cannabis Legal Consulting

Travis Charles Smith is an attorney based in Oklahoma City. His practice focuses on in civil lawsuits and winning at trial. Travis is an expert in Oklahoma medical marijuana laws. For consulting and representation, call 405-701-6016 or send us an email.

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