Recognized as being Missouri’s best-selling cannabis brand in 2021, Illicit Gardens is a grow facility and dispensary on a mission to free those incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes. The company is making this goal a reality by growing exceptional cannabis under the power of Fohse’s A3i LED lights.
Illicit Gardens COO Adam Diltz shares his insights into creating a stand-out cannabis brand, the role Fohse plays, and why cannabis justice reform is a cornerstone of their operation.
Building the Illicit Gardens Brand
For Illicit Gardens founders Adam Diltz and Nate Ruby, acting on their vision of using cannabis to create positive community change is of the utmost importance.
“While there are a number of companies out there who claim to help shine a light on some of the hypocrisies and injustices in this space, there are very few who do much more than talk the talk,” Diltz said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the walk.”
When conceptualizing the Illicit Gardens brand in early 2020, the founders felt strongly that their actions and efforts behind the scenes should also align with their goals to promote cannabis justice reform. They wanted a name that would make people stop and do a double take.
“When we landed on the name ‘Illicit,’ we had discussions about taking back that word from all the negative connotations associated with that word and the cannabis community,” Diltz said. “Why was cannabis ever even labeled illicit?”
They knew that choosing an in-your-face name would provide opportunities to educate the public on the history and injustices of cannabis prohibition. Edgy, stylized branding by Illicit’s creative director, Cristina Osorio, rounded out the new brand.
But Illicit Gardens is more than a cutting-edge, socially conscious cannabis company with cool branding. The team brings over 50 years of combined management experience, working in over 40 facilities in eight states. The company’s genetic library features over 30 hand-selected cultivars. Proprietary drying and curing techniques maximize the terpene and cannabinoid content of the top-shelf flower while bio-security systems eliminate all contaminants from the air and any surfaces.
“Our understanding of the science, ability to work with the environment and our strategic use of technology brings consistency and top quality in every harvest,” Diltz said. “There are not a lot of growers or facilities out there that are able to scale to the 1,000-pound-plus per month size and maintain craft-quality level cannabis products.”
Growing Efficiently at Scale With Fohse LEDs
Good lighting is the foundation for any grow op. When Illicit Gardens opened its state-of-the-art facility in 2021, they undertook an intensive vetting process to ensure they selected the lights needed to achieve their cultivation goals.
For Diltz and the cultivation team, choosing Fohse’s A3i lights was a no-brainer due to the system’s unique features, reduced overheads and easy access to a great customer support team.
The A3i is regarded by industry experts as being the most powerful grow light in the world. Its swiveling light bars allow maximum canopy penetration via cross illumination to neighboring grow plots while producing up to 60% more light per BTU than a traditional HOS system.
Installing A3i lights in Illicit Gardens’ flowering rooms has been a game-changer, enabling them to get the same coverage with 60% of the total fixture account versus competitor systems on a per-square-foot basis.
“Using LED has allowed us to dramatically cut not only monthly utility costs, but also decrease our startup costs by requiring smaller HVAC units in comparison to building a facility using traditional HPS lighting systems,” Diltz said.
The ability to incorporate Fohse lights with other control systems is also a major bonus.
“Being able to integrate the controls into our facility control system allows for quick and easy management of our lighting schedule, intensity and spectrums based on the stages of the plants’ growth,” Diltz explained.
Illicit Gardens works to minimize their carbon footprint as much as possible, so using lights that are more efficient and reduce their environmental impact is critical. To decrease water consumption, all moisture is pulled from the air in the grow rooms through condenser pumps on an HVAC system. It’s then sterilized with dissolved oxygen and reintroduced into feed tanks. The A3i significantly reduces the company’s energy consumption by producing 60% more light per BTU than an HPS system, as less strain is placed on cooling systems.
A Platform for Change
Through Illicit Gardens’ focus on growing the highest quality medical cannabis, the company has built a loyal following of repeat customers in Missouri. Diltz sees this as an opportunity to create awareness of their local, regional and national reform goals while also supporting like-minded activist groups and political initiatives.
“Anyone can grow cannabis, but can you grow top shelf at scale while telling a compelling story?” Diltz asks. “It’s the story behind what we do that drives us to be better and makes patients care about the mission.”
Illicit Gardens works with local and national advocacy groups to support the release of cannabis prisoners. On 4/20, in collaboration with Strange Music and Last Prisoner Project, Illicit Gardens launched its Freedoms Campaign and flew eight cannabis prisoners of war (POWs) to a studio in Missouri to record their stories to raise money for their release and reintegration. Each month they will highlight a different prisoner and tell their story.
The campaign launch coincided with the release of a new product line, “West by Illicit,” which isthe brainchild of freed cannabis POW Donte West who was sentenced to eight years for a first-time cannabis offense in Kansas.
“West fought his charges and ultimately secured his release and dismissal of all charges through sheer force of will and perseverance against a system designed to keep him behind bars,” Diltz said, adding that 30% of the proceeds from “West by Illicit” sales will be donated to a rotating list of Missouri’s incarcerated cannabis prisoners to assist with their legal and reintegration fees.
Diltz and his team are determined to raise awareness for those incarcerated for cannabis crimes while also encouraging citizens to challenge the hypocrisy in the legal system regarding cannabis.
“We ask consumers of our products to not take for granted their freedoms,” he says, and “to understand the plight of those behind bars for the now-legal activity they get to enjoy freely, and through an understanding of those injustices—be inspired to take action.”
VP of Marketing Daniel Craig says Illicit’s contribution to the community “extends beyond criminal justice reform and our work with Last Prisoner’s Project.”
For example, Illicit Gardens works closely with Southeast Enterprises, an organization giving those with mental disabilities an opportunity to participate in the workforce. Southeast Enterprises helps Illicit with their glass jar recycling programs, the only active cannabis recycling program in the city, as well with additional cleaning services at their cultivation and manufacturing facilities.
“Our dispensaries have additionally partnered with HEDC (Hispanic Economic Development Corporation), which is dedicated to improving the lives of Latinos within the greater Kansas City area,” Craig says.
HEDC achieves this area through business development and economic and community wealth creation initiatives, including job placement, advanced workforce training, development of economic corridors and several other local projects. According to Craig, Illicit has raised over $25,000 in donations for HEDC activities.
Illicit Gardens’ drive for success is clear. And for their team, success isn’t just about the dollar signs. At the end of the day, Craig says that “Illicit aims to support both our patients, cannabis POWs and local community organizations.”
And Fohse agrees.
“We’re proud to support the success of Illicit Gardens,” says Fohse’s chief marketing officer, Leonard Wilson. “Not only are they growing high-quality cannabis with our LED fixtures, but their philanthropic work also lends a voice to the community while sharing compelling stories of the unsung.”