NFPA 1: Occupancy classification of a building containing marijuana growing or extraction operations, #FireCodefridays

It's back! After missing out on a few Fridays, I am happy to be back with a Fire Code Friday post!  The past few weeks have been busy here at NFPA.  I have been working most days preparing the (almost) finishing touches for the 2018 NFPA 1 Handbook , due out in a couple of months,  as well as beginning the preparation for the upcoming 2021 Code revision cycle.  Things never slow down with code development.

One of the many responsibilities of NFPA technical staff is to answer code interpretation questions.  Over the past few weeks I have received several questions regarding a change to the 2018 edition of NFPA 1 related to new Chapter 38 on marijuana growing, processing and extraction facilities.  More specifically, I have been asked “what is the occupancy classification of a facility growing or processing marijuana?”  I hope to provide some insight on this question here.

Chapter 38 is a new chapter applicable to the growing and processing of marijuana within new and existing facilities.  Chapter 38 does not create a new or separate occupancy classification.  To clarify this to users, new Section 38.1.5 states that “the occupancy of buildings or portions of buildings where the growing or processing of marijuana occurs shall be in accordance with Chapter 6 and the applicable building code.”  Thus, prior to applying Chapter 38 to a building or portion thereof, it would require an occupancy classification from those defined in Chapter 6 (industrial, storage, business, etc…).  The provisions of Chapter 38 apply in addition to, in replacement of, or as a modification to the requirements of the Code for the determined occupancy of the building.

The marijuana “seed to sale” process involves a number of steps starting with the growth and cultivation of the plants through to the sale of the end product.  Some facilities may be used only for the growing of the plants while others may be specific to the extraction process.  A grow facility where the only function of the facility is to grow plants, may be classified as a storage occupancy, which is defined in as “an occupancy primarily for the storage or sheltering of goods, merchandise, products, or vehicles”.  Where the plants are being processed in any manner, the facility may require a classification of an industrial occupancy, defined in as “An occupancy in which products are manufactured or in which processing, assembling, mixing, packaging, finishing, decorating, or repair operations are conducted.” Facilities used for the extraction process may also be classified as industrial occupancies. A facility may also have portions of both growing and processing of the plants which could warrant a multiple occupancy protection strategy.   (Note:  Chapter 38 does not apply to the retail sale of marijuana where growing and processing does not occur.  A retail facility would generally fall under the provisions of a mercantile occupancy and not those in Chapter 38, which are unique to the grow/extraction process and have minimal impact on a retail facility.)

As the occupancy classification of a facility is confirmed by the local AHJ, authorities should be considering how the space is being used and the hazards present relative to its final occupancy classification.  Are plants being stored and nothing other than stored?  What types of processes are occurring?  Is a high hazard classification (industrial) warranted?  Is the marijuana growing/processing portion within a building with another occupancy such as business or mercantile? All of these are questions for consideration when determining the final occupancy classification.

The purpose of Chapter 38 was not to create a new occupancy classification.  Rather it was to address the unique hazards of facilities where the growing and processing of marijuana occurs. 

Thanks for reading, everyone.  Stay safe!

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Download the Safety Issues for Cannabis-Related Facilities Fact Sheet
Kristin Bigda
Technical Lead and Principal Fire Protection Engineer with a focus on building and life safety related content.

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