Emerging issue requires input from everyone
BY JIM PAULEY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NFPA
In May 2020, a major fire occurred at a cannabis business in Los Angeles that injured several firefighters. According to news coverage, in the incident’s aftermath, the Los Angeles Fire Department conducted a citywide audit of businesses that store and sell volatile materials, which revealed that approximately one-third of cannabis facilities had not previously been in the city's fire prevention database. The department also issued 64 fire violation notices and ordered 12 businesses shuttered for various safety violations.
These and related findings highlighted serious concerns about how effectively cannabis facilities are inspected and monitored for fire safety. It also underscored the challenges of accurately tracking where cannabis facilities exist within a jurisdiction, which further complicates the ability to ensure proper compliance.
Five years ago, our efforts to address fire protection for cannabis facilities from a standards development perspective were in their infancy, just as the industry was just starting to take hold. Today, with 34 states and the District of Columbia legalizing the medical and/or recreational use of cannabis, the growth of cannabis facilities has proliferated. This, in turn, has generated mounting concerns among multiple stakeholder groups about how to minimize the fire risks associated with them.
These developments reinforce that as the world continues to evolve and change, so too do the fire and life safety issues we collectively face. Effectively addressing them requires a fully functioning Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem. This framework identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. When they work together, the Ecosystem protects everyone. if any of the key elements of this safety system is lacking, the risk factors increase substantially.
At NFPA, our role in addressing emerging issues like cannabis facilities is far from singular. We rely on input and feedback from our stakeholders to identify where our efforts should be focused and the most appropriate ways to tackle the challenges.
To that point, NFPA was recently asked to explore the development of a standard that would provide fire protection requirements for cannabis facilities, expanding upon existing provisions in chapter 38 of NFPA 1, Fire Code. The direction we ultimately take is something we won’t decide in a vacuum.
The NFPA codes and standards process is the longest running and most successful public private partnership. One of its keys strengths is our open-consensus process that leads to codes and standards that benefit citizens and governments at no cost to either. Everyone with an interest in a particular issue is actively encouraged to make their voices heard. It is that very breadth of perspective and input from all vested parties that directly contributes to the integrity of our codes and standards.
That quest for broad input is essential at this very first step as well. In response to this most recent request, we have begun soliciting feedback from stakeholders. The input we’ve received thus far reflects a wide range of opinions and perspectives. Many have expressed support for the standard while others have animatedly voiced their objections. This spirited dialogue contributes to helping us making well-informed decisions that serve our stakeholders’ needs.
At the core of addressing concerns around the safety of cannabis facilities, these are the questions we must answer: What is the best way to effectively address this issue and its challenges? Is it the development of a cannabis fire protection standard? Or are there other, more impactful means of tackling this emerging fire safety threat?
While NFPA plays an important role in facilitating the process for addressing these concerns, we know the most robust solutions come collectively from our stakeholders. Make sure to share your thoughts and input on the expansion of NFPA’s existing cannabis safety requirements. The deadline for providing public input is March 31, and I strongly encourage as many people as possible to participate in this process. Each and every perspective plays a direct role in moving fire and life safety forward.
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