Marijuana is going to be legal in Colorado in a mere six months.
As far as this goes economically — seeing an industry transition from a black market to a medical market to a legal market — anything on this scale is unprecedented since the days of Prohibition.
I flew out to Colorado to see what it’s like on the ground floor of an industry that’s about to explode.
Here, we look at the entire production cycle of marijuana in Colorado. We looked at Denver Relief’s growery; I got an inside look at Dixie Elixirs, which makes marijuana-infused soft drinks and snacks; and I toured CannLabs, the cannabis testing facility that ensures that all marijuana products are up to snuff.
Then we got a look at the Denver Relief dispensary in Downtown Denver, where marijuana is sold legally. Lastly, we got a look into the operations at Heady Glass to learn how water pipes and bowls are made from scratch.
Here’s the story of marijuana, from seed to smoke.
The Denver Relief growery is located in what might be the most non-descript warehouse in the Mountain time zone.
On the inside, though, all the marijuana for one of the most popular dispensaries in Denver is grown from scratch.
Marijuana here starts as a stem, not a seed. Seeds can be fickle and difficult to ensure quality. Healthy branches are cut from 'mother' plants -- the tall ones on the sides -- and potted. They will grow into exact genetic clones of that plant. Quality is assured.
Here are the young clones, recently cut from mother plants. For some perspective on the growth cycle, the marijuana from these plants will be on shelves around Christmas, so planning is paramount.
These plants are a little older. There are two species of cannabis, indica and sativa, each with different properties. You can already start to tell the difference between the short, bushy indicas and the tall, lanky sativa strains.
The lights are on mostly at night in order to make sure the facility doesn't get too hot or too dry in the day. Climate control is paramount for growing high quality marijuana.
The soil is made from coconut husks. That's ideal because they don't come with any nutrients, which gives the grower Nick Hice the ability to determine the precise nutrients he wants to give his plants.
Everything in the facility is designed to keep temperature and humidity within a narrow region. If either of those moves out of the upper or lower bounds, the employees are alerted by an app so they can bring the environment back in line.
Leaving the nursery and entering one of the main two grow rooms, we can see marijuana that is almost ready for harvest.
Most of the plants are hybrids, but you can see which strains lean one way or another. These are hybrids that have a lot of the traits of an indica. Notice how they're short and low to the ground.
Denver Relief has thousands of plants growing. They know the exact number at all times and keep the Colorado Department of Revenue informed of the movements of very single bit of marijuana in the facility. Each plant produces around 1-2 pounds of marijuana.
Still, some of the marijuana isn't high-quality enough to be sold as flowers. Since it's still got THC in it, this 'waste' is sold to marijuana-infused products manufactures. We'll get to them in a moment.
After a couple more weeks on the drying rack or in the humidor, these flowers will be ready for sale.
Welcome to Dixie Elixirs, a Medical Marijuana-Infused Products (MMIP) licensed manufacturer. Their soft drinks and snacks are widely found around Denver-area dispensaries, and are ideal for people who like the effects of marijuana but don't enjoy smoking.
Most of the facility is like any other food preparation facility. It's by and large a kitchen. Here, two employees weigh and package cannabis-infused treats. The funny thing is, it doesn't even smell like pot.
Here's the thing that makes Dixie different though. This is a CO2 extraction device, a state-of-the-art machine that extracts the cannabinoid oils from marijuana using a process developed by a former Navy nuclear submarine technician. We've come a long way from boiling marijuana in butter, folks.
The results include these soft drinks and edibles, popular around Denver. We'll talk more about Dixie's booming infused products business in another post.
Before any of the marijuana products make it to customers, though, they're put to the test here at CannLabs, one of the only laboratories in Colorado that specialises in cannabis.
Marijuana-infused products, hash, tinctures, or concentrates are all evaluated here for potency using high or ultra-performance liquid chromatographs. They're also tested for contamination from either microbes or reactants. This allows sellers to know exactly what they're selling.
A person with a medical card can waltz into a marijuana store and buy up to two ounces of marijuana on a given day.
Some of the best-selling products right before the weekend are these marijuana concentrates, or hash.
Because the production is so heavily monitored -- climate controlled, indoor facilities -- the marijuana in Colorado is of a higher quality than almost anywhere else in the United States.
If you're going to buy marijuana, you need a way to smoke it. So we checked out Heady Glass, a shop that blows its own water pipes.
The shaft of the water pipe -- commonly referred to as a 'bong' -- is prepared on this large, spinning lathe.
Meanwhile, another glass blower works on the smaller, removable parts of the glass, like this one that will hold the marijuana.
The finished product looks like this, and retails for around $US100. Once you've got this, you're ready to smoke.
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