While some may still attach a negative stigma to the recreational/medical marijuana industry in Colorado, one cannot deny the fact that people hold real careers and real jobs within this industry, and in doing so, they are just like any other American who works a legitimate job.
Arguably, one of the most important jobs in the marijuana industry is growing the plant. Kirk Scramstad is one of the 20 plus active growers in the operation I visited, a legal grow ran under the company Organic Alternatives. Scramstad is a CSU alumni and North Dakota native who is the director of operations at the grow.
I met Scramstad at an undisclosed location. We entered the building through a thick metal door that featured a dizzying array of different locks. Once I was inside, it felt as if I were in an operation room – the solid white walls and clean air (similar to how a doctor’s office or hospital smells) made it hard for me to believe I was in a marijuana cultivation facility.
Absolutely no trace of marijuana could be seen (or smelled) from where I initially entered the building. Scramstad checked my ID and gave me a lanyard while I looked around in amazement. The place hardly looked like it was used to grow marijuana and was, seemingly, a very sterile facility.
Scramstad walked with me over to the first door down the hall. He opened the door for me. “This is our clone room,” he said with a wide smile as he gestured me to make my way into the warm and humid space. Right away, I noticed the aeroponics system they were using for their clones, a system so efficient it is used by NASA to grow plants in outer space. More information on aeroponics can be found here, but the basics are that the plant is grown with its roots suspended in the air and gains essential nutrients necessary for growth via a nutrient-rich mist that is sprayed onto the roots, making up for the fact that there is no soil for the roots to derive nutrients from.
The most important part of this ‘cloning’ process is when the plants, who are in their infancy, receive Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFID). Regulation in Colorado’s marijuana industry requires Scramstad and his crew to tag each plant with a RFID tag before it leaves the clone room. If they do not do this, the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) will crack down on them in the form of fines or other penalties.
Scramstad claims that this regulation has not affected Organic Alternatives much at all, at least in comparison to some other local establishments. This grow is used to show new municipalities what a ‘proper’ establishment looks like, setting the bar for others who want to avoid fines like the hefty $14,000 fine recently placed on the Dandelion Grow/Native Roots Dispensary in northern Colorado.
Scramstad and I walked out from under the cool blueish lights of the clone room back into the hallway. He took me to the next ‘stage’ in the grow: the vegetation room (or veg room for lay terms). What is a vegetation room? Scramstad explained to me that these rooms are where plants grow support branches for their buds, and some of the plants can be in a bit of shock as they make a transition from the climate of one room to another. The plants also go through a change of light cycles, as they receive roughly 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness every 24 hours in the vegetation room. Scramstad referred to this as the “photoperiod”.
We then made our way into the flower room, a room that shared a similar humidity and temperature level to the veg room but was different because of how the plants looked. Big beautiful colas earmarked an abundance of healthy and more mature plants. Scramstad told me how the forest-green leaves I saw were indicative of a healthy plant. The process for flowering a marijuana plant typically takes about 56-64 days (or eight weeks), and this is when the trichomes of the plant are formed.
The lights used in here were very bright and featured a more reddish hue than the clone room; Scramstad said they were a combination of High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) bulbs and Light Emitting Plasma (LEP) bulbs. (Disclaimer: I did not have the special camera lens needed to photograph in these lighting conditions, so my photos are privy to looking a bit odd – my apologies).
Although he did not get into specifics on HPS vs LEP, Scramstad explained that I was right. What I noticed were the different spectrums of light which his crew intentionally recreates in the rooms to mimic natural daytime light cycles the plant needs to grow. These energy hungry lights are fed electricity which comes from the city of Fort Collins, who Scramstad says charges a premium for the sustainable’energy used in the grow.
This was one part of the operation which featured a noticeably strong aroma. Scramstad said the crew manages the stench of the marijuana grow via 15-20 carbon air filters throughout the facility. It amazed me how just outside of the flower room’s door the air was almost odorless. While I personally do not mind the smell of marijuana cultivation, I do believe in Fort Collin’s decision to limit the smell produced by grow operations via city laws and ordinances. Scramstad claims that his crew takes pride in overshooting all of those regulations in order to ensure that they pass all inspections from the state and city.
After we visited the last of the rooms in the grow, Scramstad and I talked a bit about their operation. He claimed that employees leave a set of work clothes at the grow to ensure sanitary conditions and to prevent cross contamination in the grow. They even use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) via Green Lacewings and Parasitic Wasps, which help keep harmful predators away from the plants.
We made our way into a separate room in the back of the building. Scramstad told me that this room was special as he pointed to the door frame. Thick steel lined the interior walls of the room like a vault. Why? Because this is where the buds are cured and stored. After roughly four to five months of growing, curing and being recorded in a statewide database (thanks to their RFID tags), the plants are tracked their entire life from seed to sale.
Although Colorado’s marijuana regulation may cause headaches for Scramstad and his crew, this is a model which continually attracts the interest of new states. As for now, it seems to be a viable path towards marijuana legalization in contemporary American society.