It’s amazing how quickly something previously taboo turns professional, once regulations ease. We saw a prime example of this at Canna Source — a cannabis growing and dispensary business in fully legalized Colorado.
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Cultivating Cannabis in the Middle of Nowhere
Canna Source president Ryan Shaw let us pay a visit to his cultivation center in Pueblo County, Colorado. As residents of fairly cannabis-unfriendly jurisdictions, we were complete newcomers to this potentially massive new industry — and we learned a lot.
The growing operation was a fair way out of town — far away from anything really. Despite state-level legalization for cannabis in Colorado, several local jurisdictions won’t allow such businesses in the area. So it was necessary to head out to find a county with friendlier zoning rules.
Check out our video report to hear Shaw’s take on the industry in general, its economic potential, and some of the challenges he and his contemporaries face.
The isolation has its benefits, though even that has a unique angle. Shaw told us of one time his security system alerted the police — who traveled to the farm and let themselves in using access codes. Once there, a deputy phoned Shaw to inform him 100 lbs of product was safe in the secure area and nothing appeared missing.
That’s the new reality in Colorado, almost inconceivable a decade or two ago — officers of the law helping to secure a marijuana crop, rather than burning it down and arresting its operator.
Cannabis may be legal in Colorado, but it’s very strictly regulated. A day earlier, we visited a dispensary and were surprised when we had to show IDs inside the entrance, and be cleared to walk through a locked door to the serving area. Then there are all kinds of rules about how the merchandise may be presented, packaged and sold.
But if you think that’s strict, you should see the people producing the stuff. At Canna Source cameras are running everywhere, showing every room at the location. Footage must be retained 40 days (60 for a dispensary). We had to sign into the place as guest visitors, with the strict stipulation that we couldn’t touch the plants or product.
Every action in the cannabis channel, from initial production to consumption, is monitored. At the production and distribution level, it’s all recorded in a software system called METRC — produced by Franwell in Florida. Nearly every state with legal cannabis uses METRC, which has a near-monopoly in the industry.
METRC tracks everything: plant growth progress, what’s in bloom, harvests, plants destroyed — through to delivery drivers and locations. Plants at a certain stage need to be RFID tagged and the produce monitored.
Canna Source covers 11 acres and has about four growing rooms of about 5,000 sq ft each.
Sophisticated Farm Monitoring System
Shaw demonstrated the company’s own proprietary farm monitoring system, which focuses not on compliance but optimizing production to be as efficient as possible. Support systems like fans, water PH levels, light, humidity and temperature produce data that dramatically increases Canna Source’s output.
He described his system as similar to something a huge agricultural business like Monsanto might use, and said it “should well over triple our yields” over a non-optimized grow.
Canna Source is planning to actively produce over 300-400 lbs of product per month, far larger than an operation that size could expect to grow otherwise.
The entire place was extremely clean and organized — and dare we say, smelled great. We checked out the growing rooms from infant to harvestable plants, staff separating the buds from plants, and the bud inventory room itself. Buckets of buds with names like Colorado Diesel, Durban Poison, Maui Wowie, and Blue Dream lined the walls.
“The Afghani Durban Poison and Maui Wowie are 100 percent landrace strains, which means they haven’t been messed with,” said one employee.
Growing Cannabis Industry in Colorado
Canna Source officially incorporated in 2014, and received its license in 2016. The operation we visited had about 17 employees, including farm and office staff.
“The way we run things isn’t perfect, but I try to run things the way Dale Carnegie would… keep a positive outlook on everything, etc. Even then it’s a lot of work — building it, working out best processes and all. We’re absolutely hammered by regulations and taxes as-is, but we always have to be ready for them to change at any time.”
Cannabis has been legal in Colorado for both medicinal and recreational use for adults over 21 since January 2014. Even then, it was a long road to removing prohibition. It began with decriminalization in 1975 and legalization for medicinal use in 2000, and finally Colorado Amendment 64 which passed in November 2012.
Will full marijuana legalization be coming to a jurisdiction near you? Please share in the comments.
Images via Canna Source, Jon Southurst