Tucked in a small commercial mall in an industrial area of Secaucus, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, sits Harmony Dispensary. Behind its unassuming storefront, Harmony prides itself as having an especially high standard among the Garden State’s medical marijuana cannabis outlets. While dispensary customers don’t get to see it, all of the cannabis for sale at Harmony is grown on the premises, in a unique and state-of-the-art hydroponic operation.
Leslie Hoffman, Harmony’s communications director, says Harmony’s “biosecure facility” is setting a new standard for cannabis cultivation in New Jersey.
“We have the highest biosecure level in the state,” Hoffman said. “There is no mandatory state regulation on this. As far as I know, we’re the only ones taking it to this level.”
Here’s how the system works: Anyone who enters the grow area has to first “gown up” in a jumpsuit and go through an “air-shower” that removes any possible traces of mold, mildew, mites or other contaminants. All air in the grow facility runs through charcoal and HEPA filtration (short for high-efficiency particulate air), as well as a brine solution.
Meanwhile, the water that feeds Harmony’s cannabis plants is processed for purity. Municipal water enters the system, receiving a “reverse osmosis” treatment before reaching the plants. This pushes the water through ultra-fine membranes, thereby removing contaminants. After irrigation, the water goes to an ozone generator, which takes out impurities but keeps in nutrients. Personnel add more nutrients as needed and recycle the water back into the system.
The whole operation is computerized, including the water valves that are adjusted for each phase of the plant’s life. In fact, inside the grow room, Harmony has integrated automation into as many steps of the process as they can. The plants sit on tables that move on a track system, advancing in increments every day or two, bringing them to workstations designed for each stage of cultivation, including planting, vegetative, flowering and harvesting.
The system was developed in-house, and produced with equipment from other industries, but then retrofitted for cannabis cultivation. A staff of 35 is involved in the various aspects of the process, from planting and cloning to harvesting and packaging.
“We differentiate ourselves on the market as pure, consistent, effective, modern medicine,” Hoffman said.
Harmony is one of six “alternative treatment centers” (as they are officially known) now operating in New Jersey’s limited medical marijuana program, with six more licenses due to be approved by year’s end. Now, there are two each in the north, central and south regions of the state, with Harmony in the first category.
Harmony is a new addition to New Jersey’s constellation of ATCs, as it took about a year to get the operation up and running. Harmony received its license to grow in July 2017, planted its first seeds that October and only received its license to sell the following June, as the samples from the first harvest were approved.
“We opened June 18, and within an hour of announcing our opening, we had patients,” Hoffman says. “We continue to see an increase, as well as a repeat customer base.”
The dispensary now receives between 50 and 100 patients a day, generally in the higher end of that range, according to Hoffman.
Growth is anticipated, as membership in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is increasing by about 100 patients a day, standing at nearly 30,000 as of October 2018. New Jersey does not have recreational marijuana, though its new governor Phil Murphy has stated his intent to legalize cannabis for adult use in the near future.
Shaya Brodchandel, Harmony’s CEO, describes the dispensary’s advice to new patients: “Try it, go slow, see what your reaction is, untill you find what works for you, and stick with that.”
Brodchandel says that back pain is one of the main conditions that patients come in for, while anxiety and PTSD are also common complaints.
Harmony grows 10 strains total and displays them on electronic monitors in the lobby with close-up images of the bud. Alongside each listed variety is the percentage of THC and CBD, as well as the proportion of sativa and indica in the genetic mix. The information on THC and CBD content comes from testing carried out on all strains by the New Jersey Health Department at its lab in Trenton, with the results posted online.
Harmony’s most popular strains include Green Crack, a 50-50 indica-sativa hybrid with an 18 percent THC content, a Purple Crack with similar stats and Strawberry OG, another hybrid with 21.4 percent THC.
Hoffman says that “extractions are the next phase” for Harmony. As an Earth Day project in April, she installed beehives on the premises and hopes to harvest 200 pounds of honey this year. “We’ll store it until we have extractions, and then we’ll be ready to sell cannabis-infused honey.”
When asked about Harmony’s future if Gov. Murphy fulfills his ambition to legalize recreational cannabis in New Jersey, Hoffman responds: “If it happens, we will rise to it. But we’re hoping the medical program doesn’t get rolled into the soil as the recreational market comes in.”
600 Meadowlands Parkway, Suite 15
TELL US, what’s your favorite dispensary?
Originally appeared in Issue 34 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE