This article was originally posted by Margolin & Lawrence (margolinlawrence.com) December 2017.
Our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are often faced with questions about which substances count as "volatile solvents" when it comes to cannabis manufacturing. The state has added clarity in the new regulations released on November 17th, which define the solvents for volatile and nonvolatile manufacturing of cannabis extract. You can read the full set of regulations here: regulations on Manufactured Cannabis Safety.
The distinction between “volatile” and “nonvolatile” is relevant to the process of cannabis manufacturing because there are different license types for each type, and some jurisdictions allow one but not the other. Additionally, the zoning and sensitive-use requirements can be different for the two types of cannabis manufacturing.
Cannabis-infused products like marijuana edibles, tinctures, and oils comprise a large part of the legal cannabis industry’s sales, and are only increasing in popularity. A key ingredient of these products is cannabis extract – the pure, often high-THC-content cannabis distillate that can be combined with other products to create goods ranging from weed brownies to CBD bath soaps. To create this distillate, it’s necessary to use chemical solvents to extract the active ingredients from whole marijuana flowers. However, these solvents are often flammable, pressurized chemicals like butane, which, if used improperly during the extraction process, can be dangerous.
To limit potential dangers, California split the activity of cannabis manufacturing into two different categories, distinguished by whether or not they used “volatile solvents,” and placed differing restrictions on the two categories, with additional precautions required for manufacturing operations that used volatile solvents. In June 2017’s Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, a “volatile solvent” was defined as a solvent that “is or produces a flammable gas or vapor that, when present in the air in sufficient quantities, will create explosive or ignitable mixtures.”
Cannabis manufacturers who use non-volatile solvents or no solvents at all (e.g. operations that only packaged or labeled goods, or that created cannabis-infused products using distillate purchased from a third party) are treated as “Level 1 Manufacturers,” while manufacturers who dealt with volatile solvents are “Level 2 Manufacturers.” To qualify for a Level 2 Manufacturer operating license, businesses would have to meet a much more strict set of criteria than the Level 1 Manufacturers would.
Since two of the most popular solvents used in the cannabis extraction process – butane and ethanol – counted as volatile solvents by this standard, and relatively few municipalities in California allow for Level 2 cannabis extraction, many were concerned that these regulations would make it too difficult for new small-scale extraction operations to get their businesses up and running. Additionally, some cannabis manufacturers argued that ethanol, a substance that’s food-safe, safe to handle, and is only ignitable as vapor in extremely high concentrations, shouldn’t be treated as “volatile” for the sake of cannabis manufacturing. By responding to these concerns and downgrading ethanol from “volatile” to “nonvolatile,” the Department of Public Health has taken an important step toward making cannabis extraction more accessible to California marijuana businesses.
Locally, the City of Los Angeles will be issuing cannabis licenses for both volatile and non-volatile cannabis manufacturing. Stay tuned for updates for updates, and contact us at email@example.com to speak with one of our LA Cannabis attorneys about the latest on Measure M.