For 15 years, Nate Ames worked as a material science consultant on four continents for energy titans ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips. He is accustomed to international standards and practices, guys in suits, contracts and dreary trade shows for the mechanically inclined. On a freezing January Sunday, in a drab airport hotel conference room, Ames presented a brilliant speech covering the nuances of doing business with cannabis entrepreneurs at a seminar for Cannabis Career Institute. Ames is a partner at Apeks Supercritical, one of a few US manufacturers of closed-loop CO2 botanical oil extraction machines, currently heralded as the most efficient, safe and expensive gizmos available for making cannabis extracts.
Extractions are rapidly becoming the life blood of the cannabis industry as dried flowers lose favor to edibles, electronic cigarettes and concentrates in all markets. For marijuana growers saddled with mountains of excess trim, the machines serve as bottomless money kegs. A pound of raw concentrate can fetch as much as $7,000 here in Los Angeles, more in Arizona as supply is hampered by state regulations. As more people blow themselves up using open-flame systems making butane hash oil, some municipalities are banning its production and sale.
The cannabis industry found Apeks in 2007. Among other straight jobs, the company was then fabricating light posts and parking meter mounts for the city of Johnstown, Ohio. A customer inquired about one of their vanilla extractors and they shipped off a similar model to Colorado. Soon after, calls trickled in from California, Colorado and Washington. The customers were vague about their intentions and recalcitrant with personal information. A few machines later Apeks realized their botanical oil extractors were coveted by the marijuana industry.
“We were scared.” Ames recalled. “When Al-Jazeera came to do a story on us, we thought the FBI was coming for sure.” Unfamiliar with marijuana, the staff investigated the legality of their machines and how cannabis is used. While still skeptical of claims made by some medical marijuana enthusiasts, they surmised that cannabis is safe relative to popular medications.
Marijuana trade shows were the first places Ames and his partner, Andy Joseph, a straight-laced Navy veteran, realized they were in emerging territory. Thinking they would fit in wearing “business casual,” the paranoid scans of reefer people widened when the duo declined offers to imbibe. Neither express interest in experimenting with marijuana.
Despite the prevalence of “cash deals, handshakes, verbal agreements and a severe lack of trustworthy information," Ames emphasized professionalism. “It's expensive, but we have all the paperwork to comply with FDA, ISO, AMSE, GMP and all the medical and recreational states.” While not overtly political, Ames observed that “the most successful people in this industry run their organization like a business and are committed to the cause. It is important to be involved in activities surrounding legalization, education, things like that, because our customers are typically devout activists.”