Into the Weeds – Considerations for Cannabis Facilities

The cannabis industry is growing rapidly as medicinal and recreational marijuana is becoming legalized in more states across the nation. As of now, 37 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands regulate cannabis for medicinal use, while 19 states, the District of Columbia and Guam regulate cannabis for recreational use.  

According to research conducted by, sales of marijuana in the U.S. reached $25 billion in 2021, a number that is projected to increase as consumption and legalization increases. The cannabis industry has three major sectors:

  • Grow and Cultivation Facilities: Where plants are cultivated until time of harvest.
  • Extraction Facilities: Where plants are moved after harvest. Plants are processed in various ways to extract oils and products to put into different consumable forms.
  • Dispensaries: Dispensaries are the licensed distribution point for which businesses sell legal and locally grown cannabis products for both medical and recreational use.

As we work with our clients, there are key design considerations to account for when designing for those cannabis sectors:

Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water Systems: Reverse osmosis is a water purification process that uses a synthetic lining to filter out unwanted molecules and large particles such as chlorine, salt, and dirt from drinking water. By filtering out particles and maintaining the highest quality of water for the plants, growers can better ensure quality and consistency for their end products. This also provides consistency if a grower has multiple sites with a different water utility.

HVAC & Lighting Options: Facilities should include HVAC’s that have built-in redundancy, such as dual compressors and dual air pass designs to independently dehumidify the grow space in case its counterpart falters. High humidity levels can stunt growth and kill the product. The HVAC system should be constantly on, rather than a simple thermostat that turns the unit on and off. The system also needs to contend with odor mitigation at the dispensary, so the smell does not stray outside of the facility. We frequently help our clients assess which locations are right for their facility and growth needs, and the HVAC system and connected building systems are very important factors in that site selection.

LED lighting is typically used to maintain temperature-controlled areas for stock and storage, control humidity in the grow space, and provide both ambient and product specific lighting. The lighting system should slowly ramp up to full brightness and ramp down slowly to dark, so it does not create a spike in room humidity. Cannabis plants need a few hours of darkness each day, so the humidity control and lighting choice is essential to product survival.

Drying Rooms: Drying cannabis is a vital part of the process to ensure the best products. Drying rooms reduce the water content of the buds up to 15%. A drying room should be temperature controlled, typically between 64°- 68° and have a relative humidity of about 55%, according to

Legal Guidelines: Due to the sensitive nature of the products, cannabis facilities come with various legal hurdles that must be accounted for, such as:

  • Facilities cannot be located within approximately 600-1,000 feet from a K-12 school, depending on the state.
  • Facilities must have carbon filters to filter air that will be pushed back out into the surrounding environment. If the plants can be smelled from the exterior of the facility, growers can be fined heavily and risk losing their license.
  • Specialty bins are required to dispose of waste since cannabis is considered a controlled substance.

Security: Each site plan design includes camera locations, exterior lighting, secure gated areas and one point of entry, typically accessible with a key card. Being cash-only, cannabis businesses typically have large amounts of cash and at least one ATM on site, making them a target for theft and crime. Limiting access points and having multiple egress points is an important design feature.

Recreational and medical marijuana security plans need to adhere to local and federal compliance standards regarding the traffic flow, production, handling, transportation, and sale of cannabis products. Interior substrate of wall types needs to be specified for optimum security. When delivering product to a facility, it is essential to have secure receiving, inventory logging, storage and distribution.

More than a retail store: Dispensaries pathways to purchase product differs from your traditional store format:

  • Product display: In some states, only mock product can be displayed. The actual product is securely stored in the back of house. Fixture and millwork should be flexible for product growth. Placement of mock product should encourage traffic flow and queues. Transaction areas should be secure and be operationally efficient for migrating product from the back of house to the sales floor.
  • An approachable atmosphere: The atmosphere starts with curbside appeal and alleviating any intimidation or uncomfortableness. The store layout can be sequential, from reception and check in, to self-guided or assisted/consultative areas, to digital and analog touchpoints, point of sale and fulfillment.
  • Branding: Brand positioning plays a key role in each cannabis facility. It is important to identify the ideal location for exterior signage and iconography. The use of sight lines and wayfinding within the environment plays a major role. Wayfinding refers to information systems that guide customers through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of the space. In dispensaries, this includes check in areas, product designation spaces and cannabis education areas.

From an operational perspective, organized secure processing and speed of fulfillment is key. Optimization of delivery from front of house (FOH) to back of house (BOH) is essential to ensure accuracy, speed and good customer service. Dispensaries need to manage express orders, delivery, preferences, as well as prioritization of medical clientele versus recreational.

Future Considerations: As program considerations expand and states allow additional uses, future-proofing your design should be looked at. Consumption lounges, entertainment and food venues, co-branding/cross collaboration should all be kept in mind.

Ware Malcomb brings in-house expertise in the design of growth and cultivation, infusion/oil extraction, processing and manufacturing, distribution, and retail/dispensaries across the Americas. Through our holistic understanding of the cannabis industry, we deliver exceptional design and thoughtful brand strategy to our clients. We help clients throughout the entire growth process, from the facilities that are growing the plants, or extracting the oils, all the way to setting up their retail locations and the strategy behind it.

For more information on the opportunities and challenges of the growing cannabis industry, check out this roundtable discussion that includes Director, Retail Architecture & Design, Anthony Simon and other various industry experts.