Commercial cannabis operations must adhere to strict disposal guidelines. Rather than simply tossing unused and unsold cannabis in the garbage, they must render the waste “unusable and unrecognizable” and track its disposal pound-for-pound.

The general rule of thumb is that anything that contains THC or comes into contact with THC must be ground up and mixed with an aggregate material until it is “unusable and unrecognizable.” This is to prevent any THC-containing material from being accessed by the wrong people—like kids and pets. It’s also intended to keep THC out of our soil and water, the environmental effects of which we still don’t even know.

But when we talk about cannabis waste requirements, what does “unusable and unrecognizable” actually mean?

What Makes Cannabis Unusable and Unrecognizable?

Unfortunately, there is no standard or universally accepted definition of “unusable and unrecognizable.” The requirements may vary from one district to the next, and the language of the law is usually vague.

For example, cannabis waste in California is overseen by three separate organizations, including the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC). The Bureau doesn’t provide any strict guidance to waste generators, but it does mandate that waste is rendered unusable and unrecognizable before leaving the premises and being transported to a landfill. The bureau judges compliance on a case-by-case basis.

According to the BCC Code Of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42:

“To be rendered as cannabis waste for proper disposal, including disposal as defined under Public Resources Code section 40192, cannabis goods shall first be destroyed on the licensed premises. This includes, at a minimum, removing or separating the cannabis goods from any packaging or container and rendering it unrecognizable and unusable.”

That’s the full extent of the guidance.

How Is Cannabis Typically Rendered Unusable and Unrecognizable?

Because there is no clearly defined guideline, we cannot provide any advice that would satisfy a universal legal standard. However, cannabis waste is often ground up and mixed with aggregates. We might look to Colorado as an example of how to get the job done. Whereas some states keep the language vague, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment defines the process more clearly:

“This must be accomplished by grinding and incorporating the marijuana waste with any of the non-consumable, solid wastes listed below and the resulting mixture must be at least 50 percent non-marijuana waste. Such wastes include: Paper waste, plastic waste, cardboard waste, food waste, grease or other compostable oil waste, bokashi or other compost activators and soil.”

Though California no longer imposes the “50% non-marijuana waste” rule, it’s still used as a standard by some organizations as part of the rendering process.

Are All Cannabis Businesses Required to Render Their Waste Unusable and Unrecognizable?

It’s very important to speak with your local licensing agency about the specific requirements, as the rules vary depending on the location, business type, and licensing board.

In California, for example:

  • Businesses overseen by the BCC and the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch (MCSB) (a division of the California Department of Public Health) are required to render their waste prior to removal.
    • These businesses include dispensaries, manufacturers, testing labs, and microbusinesses.
  • Businesses governed by CalCannabis are not required to render their waste.
    • These businesses include growers, processors, and nurseries.

CalCannabis may adopt stricter guidelines in time, but this is where we stand as of 2020.

How to Render Cannabis Waste

You have two options for rendering cannabis: You can do it yourself or hire a cannabis waste management company. If you choose to do it yourself, always get the rendering on film. You’ll want the footage if you’re ever audited by your licensing agency. At the very least, you’ll need to remove all products from their packaging, grind them down as much as possible, and mix them with other solid and liquid waste.

We always recommend working with a licensed cannabis waste disposal company because there are many important parts of the disposal process that can’t be overlooked:

  • Cannabis waste must be separated from hazardous and universal waste
  • All waste must be weighed both on-site and at the final destination
  • All waste must be rendered unusable and unrecognizable and filmed for confirmation
  • All waste must be recorded according to the state’s track-and-trace system
  • Proper disposal must be confirmed by a third party

Failure to comply can result in hefty fines, and you may even lose your business license. It’s not worth the risk.

When you work with a knowledgeable professional, you’re better equipped to ensure compliance throughout every stage of the process. Professionals possess the trucks, the grinding tools, and the documentation to get the job done correctly, and they take on much of the liability so you don’t have to worry as much about minor oversights.

They’ll worry about the whole “unusable and unrecognizable” requirement, and you can focus on running your business.

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