Steve Cantwell spent the first two and a half decades of his life defying the odds, so it’s not entirely surprising seeing him do the same thing as a licensed cannabis cultivator. The 35-year-old former Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC) fighter is living his best life as one of Nevada’s most innovative and pioneering growers in the Silver State’s legal cannabis industry. As co-owner and co-founder of Green Life Productions (GLP), along with his wife Kouanin, Cantwell and his dozen team members have built the privately-owned, boutique indoor farm near Las Vegas into one of the region’s most popular cultivators.
Selling to more than half of the Las Vegas Valley’s 85 open dispensaries, GLP is known for its superior quality created by a one-of-a-kind growing method. Since opening his grow house in 2015, Cantwell has pioneered and mastered the art of cultivating in no-till living organic soil that has been described as the purest, most natural way to grow cannabis.
“We’re the closest thing to nature for an indoor cultivation,” Cantwell says. “We don’t use any chemicals whatsoever, just the soil’s food web.”
That food web, Cantwell says, creates a soil ecosystem in which organisms break down other organisms to create a healthy and resilient home for marijuana flower to grow. In abiding by the 12 principles of permaculture, he adds natural organisms to the soil—including compost tea, with natural fish and seaweed emulsions—to keep the ecosystem thriving.
Also key to Cantwell’s success: finding the right LED lights. GLP’s setup for its first few years in business produced above-average yields, but Cantwell knew he could do better. After connecting with Las Vegas-based Fohse in 2018, he found the answer to his prayers. With Fohse’s F1V model LED lights, which use 1,000 or 600 watts of electricity depending on the configuration, Cantwell says his yields increased by almost 25 percent compared to his old LED setup. Months later, he tried Fohse’s A3i model, which uses 1,500 watts at maximum power and is more suited for GLP’s high-bay single-level grows. The A3i outperformed even the F1V, all while using less energy than any other setup Cantwell had ever experimented with. Needless to say, he was a believer.
“Fohse changed the game for us,” Cantwell says. “The A3i is the best light source besides the sun for organic growing and nutrient cycling.”
Unlike most other LED lights designed for cannabis growing, Fohse’s FIV and A3i lights allow for a number of incredibly specific adjustments in timing and power. Those capabilities allow Cantwell to cultivate his plants and care for the soil based on his exact needs at any given time. For example, GLP starts a growth cycle using lower-power lighting during the first few weeks of a plant’s life. But by the end of the cycle as the trees near harvest, Cantwell and company intensify the lighting based on their desired yield volume and how they want to care for the soil. The first few cycles with Fohse yielded so much extra flower that GLP had to expand its facility to fit it all.
“It’s that good,” he says. “We have to pay attention now so that we don’t overgrow
By paying close attention, Cantwell has been able to use the same soil for an incredible 27 cycles and counting. And the clean, sustainable grow does more than just help the environment. “The cannabis we produce is second-to-none because it’s completely organic,” he says. “Consumers can taste the difference, and that’s why we’ve been successful.”
Shopping for Green Life Productions products can feel almost like buying limited edition sneakers. You can find them just about everywhere in stores, but Cantwell posts about new and exclusive launches via a “drops” page on his company’s website. There, he lists dates for product debuts at up to 20 different dispensaries at a time. Want to be the first to cop Green Life’s MXBX or Miss Vegas strains? The drops page has exactly where and when buyers can find the new flower.
“The dispensaries love it, too, because they get people lining up outside the store on our launch days,” Cantwell says. “It’s been cool to see just how many people share our passion and excitement for new strains and products.”
Cantwell declined to share GLP’s revenue and profit tallies, but assured the numbers were big enough for the company to consider expansion. He admitted the pandemic has stalled several new projects and ideas for expanding the company, but hopes the coming year offers more opportunities as supply chain issues shore up and inflation slows down.
The sky’s the limit for GLP, but regardless of how big the business becomes, Cantwell knows making it this far has been a miracle. Afterall, his life didn’t start off all that promising.
Cantwell was born in Long Beach, CA, but moved with his family to Nevada when he was ten years old. He says his chances of making anything of his life looked slim back in his teenage years. A self-described “troubled kid,” Cantwell got booted from the city’s lone high school for fighting, leading him to confront the real world without a job or an education.
Luckily, he landed a job at a kickboxing gym in nearby Las Vegas, where he worked and trained from the age of 16. Within a couple of years, Cantwell was fighting professionally.
A decorated seven-year mixed martial arts career would go on to include almost four years fighting professionally in the UFC.
The road from high school dropout to pro fighter was a brief, albeit surprising one. Injuries forced Cantwell to retire at just 25 years old, leaving him to question what he’d do for the rest of his life. The money he’d earned and the notoriety he’d built offered a platform, but the lingering aches and injuries from his time in the Octagon threatened to limit his potential. Like so many others suffering from chronic pain, Cantwell ditched the addictive opioid meds and switched to cannabis. That decision helped him find his calling.
“I knew right away I wanted to help other people experience the same relief and healing that I was experiencing,” he said. “Thankfully, I had the right team to do it with. We’ve helped so many people and learned so much over the past few years, but we know our mission is still just beginning.”
This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.