The back of the house at Denver’s Medicine Man is an example of a cannabis company’s evolution in true physical manifest. Established in 2009, Medicine Man has been at the same 45,000-square-foot location on the north side of the city since 2011 and a visit to the grow rooms behind the scenes reveals a remarkable THC transformation. Here, a state-of-the art grow runs in such a tailored way that it looks like you could depend on its operation in much the same way you do a light switch — that is to say, producing countless pounds of cannabis in a way that seems remarkably reliable.
On my tour, I observe an assembly line of employees potting plants, each taking on a different part of the task. Feeding the plants takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and transplanting takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At any given point in time, there are about 6,000 marijuana plants flowering on 9-week cycles within the indoor space.
“We know what we grow so we know what’s in our product,” General Manager Pete Vasquez tells me as I eye a large jar of dense buds in the retail storefront, just minutes after arriving from the airport.
Half of this Medicine Man location houses what Brett Roper, co-founder and CEO of the dispensary’s consulting and licensing arm Medicine Man Technologies, calls “log cabins.” These original grow rooms are 10-foot tall wooden structures that range between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet each and they’ve been at the dispensary since its inception. Occupying the other half of the building, however, is a more modernized setup, including aluminized reflective white walls and epoxy floors that make it much easier to keep the grow space sanitary and clean.
“I always think the plants look a lot happier on this side and I don’t know why,” Roper says when we walk from the old grow to the more modern zone. “They just seem a lot happier to be alive.”
Inside, Medicine Man is experimenting with innovative grow techniques such as the “schwazzing” method described in the book “Three A Light.” This defoliation process involves removing the sugar leaves once plants get into the flowering stage to promote more rapid bud development. The idea is that more light will penetrate the flowering buds rather than the leaves in the canopy, resulting in three pounds of buds per light.
“We make them look like they’re just kind of little kids,” Roper says of the grow technique that the dispensary is trying out on certain strains. “You’re just encouraging more stalk and flower development nodes.”
Medicine Man has three locations in and near Denver and cultivates all of its own flowers, which can include as many as 50 different strains at one time. Once only open to medical patients, it now has both an adult-use and medical customer base. Roper says the original north-side location, which is close to Denver International Airport on Nome Street, sees about twice as many out-of-state customers as Colorado residents.
When it comes to choosing the strains to offer, Roper says Medicine Man is planning out about five months ahead of its supply. While the dispensary strives to bring its customers the “latest and greatest and best strains,” sometimes strains do take “vacations,” he says.
One of the most popular offerings for both medical and adult-use sales is a G6 #3, the third phenotype of a sativa-dominant hybrid cross of East Coast Sour Diesel with Aspen OG.
“This is everybody’s favorite strain,” Vasquez says of the strain that exudes a pungent aroma of diesel fuel. “This has been our top-seller for three years in a row.”
Even though operating this major cannabis operation looks seamless, President Sally Vander Veer — who has been running the business after taking over for her brothers Andy and Pete Williams in 2014 — explained that it’s a time-consuming mission filled with challenges such as a lack of access to real banking, oppressive 280E tax issues and the personnel struggles that come with having close to 100 employees.
“We just have to jump through so many different hoops than other businesses,” she says. “There’s a lot at stake every day. Compliance is key to our success.”
Within her office are boxes and boxes of paperwork containing documents associated with opening a location in the nearby city of Thornton in 2017. Vander Veer says having a father in the military means she has a “huge need for order and efficiency,” but that her philosophy for success also includes staying ahead of the competition by paying attention to evolving customer demographics.
“The subculture is such a tiny piece now of who we serve,” Vander Veer says, noting her belief the potential consumer base at Medicine Man will continue to rapidly expand for the next 15-20 years. “The myths and the stigma [of cannabis] are being removed.”
4750 Nome St.
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Originally published in Issue 33 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE