Cannabis and Land Use Regulations: Engineering the Uncharted Territory

As more states legalize cannabis, states and their municipalities across the country are grappling with decisions relating to developing regulations. Medical/recreational cultivation, distribution, sale, and cannabis usage all need to be taken into consideration. This makes things complicated for officials to create guidelines for land use. For states considering legalization, municipalities within that state may enforce a “home rule” to outright ban or carefully plan land use regulations that fit their specific municipality. Without a precedent to follow, land development professionals will need to look to regulations for farmlands and medical facilities to advise potential best practices.

The relaxation of state regulations has allowed for medical cannabis cultivation warehouses and dispensaries to open in highly urbanized areas. While it’s difficult at this point to determine the lasting positive or negative effects of cannabis regulations on our communities, it’s imperative to join with grass-roots coalitions and our governing bodies at all levels to come up with master plan amendments and redevelopment zoning changes that can shape where our communities are heading.

To start, land use professionals need to ask a few questions to determine which regulations are necessary.

  • With cultivation, will the cannabis be grown indoors or outdoors? And how will it be secured and monitored? If grown outdoors, will it be regulated as farmlands are?
  • With distribution, will it be sold wholesale or retail? Will it be shipped? If so, how and when? Will it be stored on the premises and how much traffic will this generate in the area?
  • With medical and/or recreational use, will dispensaries be indoors or outdoors? Should cannabis use be restricted to indoors or outdoors, night or daytime use? What regulations are required for proper lighting, ventilation and buffering? Should there be a detoxification area?

In the end, land use professionals will have to look at existing guidelines and review:

  • Layout – how does the layout work with the current land use pattern? Is there proper buffering from adjoining uses?
  • Grading and Drainage –Considering if the cannabis is grown outdoors, what are the effects of soil stabilization and erosion control?
  • Utilities – What is the facility’s need for water, sewer, electric, and gas? Could green practices or energy conservation be employed to power these facilities?
  • Landscaping and Lighting – Buffering around the facility must be reviewed, especially with lighting to provide security for limited or 24/7 facilities.
  • Environmental Impact – what impacts does cannabis have on the development of blights? What rezoning, if any, must happen?

Pennoni offers support to municipalities and developers who need professional consulting engineers to advise on land use planning and engineering for the medical/recreational cultivation, distribution, sale and use of cannabis. For more information, contact [email protected].

Todd M. Hay, PE, CME, serves as Regional Vice President for Pennoni’s Northern New Jersey, New York, and New England Regions. For more than 25 years, Todd has been involved in a variety of projects including in transportation and traffic; utilities; parks and recreation; K-12; colleges/universities; and rooftop/ground mount solar. His work experience has included client contact and coordination; in-house review of site plan and subdivision projects for entitlement compliance; preparation and coordination of site plans and technical specifications for bidding purposes; preparation of site plans for entitlement submission; expert witness testimony before local, county and state authorities; and contract administration and construction support services for both private and public projects.

Top 10 Money Tips Every Freshman Should Know

As college students head to campus for the fall semester, money management should be on their personal syllabus, according to Atlantic Stewardship Bank. The bank has released ten money-saving tips to help college students get an early start on securing their financial future.

“It’s important for college students to take control of their financial future by saving wherever and whenever they can,” said Paul Van Ostenbridge, President and CEO of ASB. “They should treat personal finance like a second major and avoid unnecessary expenses now to reduce financial burden when they graduate.”

ASB offers the following tips to help college students form a strong foundation for money management:

• Create a budget. You’re an adult now and are responsible for managing your own finances. The first step is to create a realistic budget or plan and stick to it.

• Watch spending. Keep receipts and track spending in a notebook. Pace spending and increase saving by cutting unnecessary expenses like eating out or shopping so that your money can last throughout the semester.

• Use credit wisely. Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Use it, but don’t abuse it. How you handle your credit in college could affect you well after graduation. Shop around for a card that best suits your needs.

• Take advantage of your bank’s resources. Most banks offer online, mobile and text banking tools to manage your account night and day. Use these tools to check balances, pay bills, deposit checks and monitor transaction history.

• Lookout for money. There’s a lot of money available for students — you just have to look for it. Apply for scholarships, and look for student discounts or other deals.

• Buy used. Consider buying used books or ordering them online. Buying books can become expensive and often used books are in just as good of shape as new ones.

• Entertain on a budget. Limit your “hanging out” fund. There are lots of fun activities to keep you busy in college and many are free for students. Get the most from your student ID. Use your meal plan or sample new recipes instead of eating out.

• Use only your bank’s ATMs. Avoid fees by using ATMs owned by or affiliated with your bank. If you must use an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank, take out larger withdrawals to avoid having to go back multiple times.

• Expect the unexpected. Things happen, and it’s important that you are financially prepared when your car or computer breaks down or you have to buy an unexpected bus ticket home. You should start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount.

• Ask. This is a learning experience, so if you need help, ask. Your parents or your bank are a good place to start, and remember—the sooner the better.

5 Cybersecurity Threats You Need to Worry About in 2018

You’re living in a rapidly evolving digital world that’s forcing your business to dive deeper into the digital landscape. Even if you’re business merely dabbles in the digital world, you’re still at high-risk if you have any information stored online.

High profile cybersecurity events hitting headlines in the past year, like Ukraine’s power grid and the Equifax breach, provided insight as to the intense damages that can be caused by a soft cybersecurity plan. It’s imperative that your business has a defense strategy in place to avoid getting hit by cyber attacks.

Reading this article is a stepping stone to give your business the ability to dodge unexpected or high impact security events.

5 prominent security threats you need to be aware of in 2018:

1. Threats to IoT (Internet of Things)

Internet of Things (IoT) is the connection of the Internet embedded in common physical objects. This connection allows everyday devices to send and receive data.

With the value of real-time data collection increasing, small to large businesses are commonly making use of IoT devices. The upside is that these devices are transforming the rate of business growth for the better, but the downside is that they can be very susceptible to hacking.

For modern-day hackers, it’s easy to use these devices as a backdoor entry into your business’s network, therefore helping them gain access to any data they find valuable.

Most organizations adopt IoT devices with enthusiasm, completely unaware that these devices are often insecure by design and offer too many opportunities for hackers to infiltrate their system. A loss of customer data quickly leads to vanishing trust from the customers you’ve worked hard to gain/maintain. If you have shareholders, a breach of data will cause them to see their investment in your business as a major risk.

It’s okay if your business has jumped into the use of IoT devices as it’s almost a necessity at this point in time. It is not a coincidence that you’ve found this article and have read this far. Use this as a sign and take a closer look at the security of your IoT devices.

2. Hackers rely on human errors

Cyber attackers partially rely on their skills and partially rely on people in your business who make mistakes. In this analysis of the most common security threats faced by organizations, it was reported that cyber attackers still heavily rely on blunders in organization’s security defenses.

According to IBM’s Cyber Security Intelligence Index, one in four security breaches are caused by human error. And, to provide a real-life example: in 2017, the CEO of Equifax stated that the company had a cyber-attack which resulted in a $600 million-dollar loss and was due to human error.

If your business uses computing devices in the workplace, then it’s necessary to invest in cybersecurity training, a consultant, or a fulltime employee who specializes in cybersecurity. It’s imperative that you understand how minor mistakes and oversights can lead to a scenario that can potentially destroy your business, or at the minimum put a dent in your bottom line.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware is a simple malware (software intended to damage or disable computers and systems) that breaches security defenses and then uses strong encryption to lock down computer files. After the hackers lock your computer files, they will then demand an amount of money in exchange for the keys to unlock your data. Victims are usually forced to pay when they haven’t backed their data up.

The past year has seen an enormous amount of ransomware attacks. Some high-profile targets include San Francisco’s light-rail network, FedEx, too many regional hospitals, as well as Britain’s National Health Service.

This article runs through publicized ransomware attacks in the US. It is broken out per month, from July 2017 to February 2018. Victims range from schools to hospitals, libraries, labs, non-profits, municipalities, and more.

As technology advances, hackers advance too. The security defenses your organization has should be updated frequently to avoid new and evolving attacks.

4. Cyber-physical attacks

Hackers are increasingly targeting cars and transportation systems, manufacturing plants, systems, electrical grids, Building Automation Networks (BANs), water/sewage plants, and all other components of a business’ critical infrastructure.

These hacks are sometimes designed to cause a major disruption to a whole country. In 2017, Ukraine’s power grid was breached and it caused a 20% plunge in the nation’s capital.

Often, the cause of cyber-physical attacks is due to systems either lacking security protection or the lack of regularly updating security protocols deployed in the systems. It’s necessary to implement innovative security solutions to improve system resilience to avoid a cyber-physical attack.

If you’ve already implemented a defense plan to evade cyber-physical attacks then be sure to keep it up to date so you don’t waste your initial investment.

5. Phishing schemes

Phishing schemes are designed to get you to click on a link that you perceive as harmless, which is why so many people get caught up in them. A phishing scheme prompts you to click on a link that will then go to a seemingly innocent URL. These “innocent” URLs can lead to a disastrous online security breach if you’re not careful.

You can mitigate this risk by training your employees on the importance of paying attention to what they’re clicking on, as well as implementing best practices to avoid a full breach of your network that is caused by a wrong click.

For example, many employees will use the same weak password across multiple apps and services. It’s important that employees are aware of the consequences of using the same password. This will help mitigate the risk of your network being breached. It is also why so many companies force you to change your login password so often.

Your company’s bottom line, your brand, and your ability to do business are all dependent on how effectively you can protect the assets and information stored on your network. If you haven’t already, be sure to put a solid defense plan in place.

Unstructured and Structured Data: Getting the Most from Your Company’s Information

Structured and unstructured data are terms heard often since companies began shifting to digital processes and information management. But what do they even mean? How do they relate to your company’s records management? And what role OCR software plays in digital transformation of unstructured data. We’ll break it down for you.

What is unstructured data?

Unstructured data refers to documents or other paperwork that cannot be read by machines. This includes hard copies of documents and other information, as well as electronic documents that are only pictures (e.g., a PDF scan of an invoice, a JPEG of a blueprint, or a scan of an X-ray). Unstructured data can be viewed by humans, but cannot be read by outdated document management software and used in the same way as structured data.

What is structured data?

Structured data is basically what it sounds like: structured. In other words, it is information that can be read – not just by humans, but by software. Structured data can be read by an ECM and specific information such as names, dates, titles, invoice numbers, case numbers, etc., can be extracted and put to work.

Transforming unstructured data into structured data

An ECM uses intelligent character recognition software (ICR software) and optical character recognition software (OCR) software) to convert unstructured data into structured, readable information. Once your unstructured data is transformed into structured data, it can be used in multiple ways. For instance, the information can be used to inform analytics, providing valuable insights that move your business forward. It can also be incorporated into workflows and intelligent forms, streamlining business processes and helping to optimize operations.