3 Things to Know Before Building a Cannabis Facility

Though the medicinal marijuana cultivation industry has been expanding in New Jersey, the recent legalization of adult-use cannabis is spurring new enthusiasm for developing more cultivation facilities throughout the state. And with the shifting balance of power in Congress, possible legislation for new cannabis funding avenues may soon accelerate investors’ enthusiasm to build successful cannabis businesses in New Jersey.

But what does it take to build a successful cannabis business? Having land and capital is only part of the equation; you need a clear plan for success. The cannabis cultivation industry is still in its infancy and full of regulatory obstacles, which, without proper planning, can cost owners tens of thousands or more in surprise costs—and even halt a project.

New Jersey’s first cannabis cultivation facility builder, Art Hance, owner of Hance Construction, and cannabis architect Sam Andras, Founding Principal of MJ12 Design Studio in Colorado, have spent many volunteer hours helping investors learn about building a successful cannabis business

Through their longtime design-build experience collaborating on grow facilities and dispensaries in New Jersey, they hope to arm investors with realistic expectations and useful information ahead of embarking on a cannabis industry venture.

Here are 3 things to know before building a cannabis grow facility.

1. Know what kind of business you want.

“A company needs to have a clear idea of where it wants to be in the market,” says Sam Andras. “What are you trying to accomplish? What is your available funding, your timeline, and how do you want to enter the market? These are all questions a business should address before jumping in. Start as early as the application phase.”

Know your budget and financing. Considering the investment of building a grow facility runs around $300/sf—not including the steep cost of the permit—you need to know what you are willing to invest to get your facility running.

Often investors say they want to build a vertically integrated facility; everything from flower to extraction to edibles and non-edibles. When the project is priced out, they sometimes hesitate and try to find ways to cut costs, like a less expensive mechanical system, or less expensive lights, instead of making wiser long-term adjustments. 

Rather than cutting the quality of your facility, Andras suggests taking a phased approach, instead of launching everything at once. “Maybe you grow flower first, put your flower on the market and sell your trim. Maybe you design the space, but you don’t build out your kitchen yet, or you don’t build out your labs; you phase those things in.”

He adds, “For businesses really looking honestly at what can they fundraise, how to get up and running, and how to get to where they want to be--that’s where working with someone like Art Hance, and a team like ours at MJ12, is beneficial to where we can work with the client and walk them through that process.”

2. Plan for obstacles.

Without an experienced design-build team to guide you through the unexpected, you may uncover hidden surprises that may either kill your plan or cost you tens of thousands of dollars or more to work around.

For example, the right site selection for your cannabis growing facility is critical, especially when it comes to utilities. The amount of power, water, and sewer required to support a grow facility is something that may be restricted by local zoning laws.  Before investing in a facility design, the complex physical requirements for your cannabis cultivation business must be assured.

Other challenges you may encounter could include the need for heat abatement, odor abatement, specialized lighting, prevention of contamination, and climate control.  

And if you’re retrofitting an existing building, as about 60-70% of cannabis growers choose to do, consider all the factors of whether or not that facility can be retrofitted into a pharmaceutical-grade environment.

When converting an existing building to use for cultivation, it first needs to be evaluated for viability. Your team can assess the slab construction, vapor barriers, the potential for moisture to infiltrate the wall system, structural loads, room for expansion to install mechanical units on the outside, and much more. Equally important is the traffic study. “If you have a 20,000 square foot building,” says Andras, “your power requirements for cultivation will be 800 times greater than just simple manufacturing or storage.”

3. There is no “secret sauce” for success – just smart planning.

“Everyone in this industry has an opinion,” says Andras. “We’re working in an industry where there is no ‘Best Way to Do Things.’ There’s very little R&D, and companies typically don’t share information,” which he hopes will change, for the long-term health of the cannabis industry.

“The most successful cannabis companies are the ones that have their teams lined up from the start,” says Andras, “such as MJ12 as architect, Hance as contractor, and an owner’s rep on the team.” These defined roles are held by people who take extreme care designing and planning growing facilities to comply with state regulations, industry standards, and a wide range of requirements.

Okay, I want to start a cannabis cultivation business in New Jersey. Who do I call first? 

Hance Construction is the first and only builder of cannabis cultivation facilities and dispensaries in New Jersey. “We’re in the New Jersey market; we know the area, the building codes, the Department of Health (which oversees New Jersey’s cannabis industry), the Real Estate market, the infrastructure required, and the ability to help pick a site and come online quickly,” says Art Hance. For investors, Hance Construction is the premier point of contact for building a successful cannabis business in New Jersey.

“I think for an owner, it’s important that they find a team that has experience in the industry to help walk them down the right road,” says Sam Andras. ”Be it an architect or a contractor – don’t rely on just one or the other. If your goal is to have a very successful project, then integrate your team early on.”

“I think our relationship with Art – Hance Construction – is strong,” says Andras. “I’ve really enjoyed working with Art; he thinks like an architect, he thinks like an engineer, and likes exploring ideas, and makes it a fun process.”

Finding the right team, including an architect and builder with experience building cannabis facilities, will help position your cannabis business for the greatest success. Your team will guide you through realistic expectations and spell out a plan for obstacles, so that you can avoid financial surprises, and instead be positioned for growth in the emerging cannabis industry.

For more information about building a successful cannabis business in New Jersey, contact Hance Construction to discuss your project ideas.