4 of a Kind: Las Vegas Grows

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of High Times.

At last, the cannabis industry is laying down firm roots in Nevada. Four of the top pot producers in Las Vegas show their cards—and guess what? They’re all aces in the garden!

Medical marijuana became legal in Nevada back in 2000. But there were drawbacks to the program. As a patient, you were able grow up to 12 plants in your primary residence, and that was it. You could designate a caregiver as well, but co-ops weren’t in the cards.

Of course, that didn’t stop the cultivation community. In the early 2000s, High Times prominently covered the thriving black-market scene in Las Vegas. It was a risky business, though: Over the years, hundreds of growers were busted trying to cash in on the rising demand for well-grown medical cannabis. And while many storefronts tried to open as collectives or dispensaries, they were outside the scope of the law and found themselves invariably raided and shuttered.

Finally, in 2013, the Nevada state legislature enacted a law allowing dispensaries and production facilities to go into business. The bill set up a regulatory structure covering everything from quality-assurance and safety rules to requirements for obtaining a medical marijuana business license. However, home cultivation was now disallowed, unless the patient lives more than 25 miles from a dispensary or is unable to travel due to health reasons.

Andrew Jolley, a native Las Vegan, is the CEO of Nevada Organic Remedies, which operates two local dispensaries called The Source. He’s also president of the Nevada Dispensary Association. “I was naive enough to sign up for the job earlier this year,” says the friendly and self-effacing Jolley. “I’m the second president, and it’s been a very interesting ride. We all expected some bumps in the road along the way, but they’ve been more like jumps, not bumps. It’s a brand-new program, and the regulators who oversee it had no prior experience—and they’re in charge of an industry that just so happens to be the lead story on the news every night.

“They found themselves trying to sort it out, just like the owners of the new businesses. It hasn’t been flawless, but fortunately, I think things overall are headed in the right direction. We have a very good working relationship with our regulators, and they’ve been very willing to work with us and do what’s in the best interest of patients. My personal style is to assume that everyone has the best interests in mind,” Jolley adds. “We have to assume that this program is here not to serve regulators or the industry, but to serve patients.”

At The Source, production is supervised by MJardin, a turnkey cultivation-services company that provides facility design, systems implementation and day-to-day professional management of large-scale grows. MJardin originated in Colorado and now serves clients in 10 states.

“With two dispensaries, two cultivations and a production license right out of the gate—and no real previous experience in this industry—it was a very daunting task,” Jolley recalls. “We felt it was important to bring in talented, experienced people. We knew that we couldn’t do everything ourselves.”

The real test for Nevada’s cannabis industry will be adult recreational use—assuming the state’s voters pass Question 2 on Election Day [Edit: They did!]. “I’m very excited about it,” Jolley says. “I sincerely hope that it passes—not only for obvious business reasons, but for what it would mean to our community, all of the good things it would bring.”

Full-out legalization is on everyone’s mind, and the sprawling grow ops now operating locally reflect the dreams of the industry. David Tuttleman, who leads the charge at Matrix NV, has laid the groundwork for this new era. He owned the wildly successful, tropical-themed restaurant Kahunaville in Las Vegas, but closed it last February in order to fulfill a dream he had with Evan Marder, his master cultivator.

“Evan and I have been friends for 23 years,” Tuttleman explains. “He was my first assistant at Kahunaville. We always dreamed of selling [pot] brownies in our restaurants. When we saw real legalization go into effect, we moved forward utilizing my management skills and his growing skills to create Matrix. Basically, this is my fifth career: I’ve worked in restaurants, women’s clothing, entertainment, so this is a new chapter of my life. The business is exciting, and an amazing way to support our local population. I’m passionate about it!”

The Matrix NV facility is on the outskirts of Vegas, a 30,000-square-foot building with four massive bloom rooms and the requisite veg, drying and “birthing” rooms for clone management. Construction started only a year ago, but Matrix NV is now at full speed, producing 13 strains, with space available to double its operations. Matrix will expand to include concentrates and edibles production in the near future.

“A recreational marketplace would be best for everybody who comes to Las Vegas,” Tuttleman says. “We’re thankful we’re licensed medically and believe that recreational will only help us be more successful. We came out of the product-development business. We understand the populace and tourism and what drives people to this town: obviously, gaming, but entertainment and food are massive right now. Nightclubs are really gaining traction. What better than marijuana to go along with all that entertainment and food?”

At Tryke Companies, Darin Carpenter supervises operations with a methodical, military-style precision. He served as a medic with the elite Army Rangers and holds degrees in genetics, biochemistry and cellular biology. “I did a lot of greenhouse breeding projects before Tryke, managing 18 nurseries,” he says. “I understand controlled environments and plant physiology and the ins and outs of growing.”

Carpenter oversees Tryke’s two indoor grows: one in Las Vegas, with a total capacity of well over 100,000 square feet, and another in Phoenix, Arizona, with just under 40,000 square feet. Like Matrix NV, the latter operation is just reaching its first anniversary.

“Between both cultivation sites, we have a couple hundred strains in our genetic locker,” Carpenter says. “We focus on specific strains that are commercially viable, as well as boutique niche strains. We try to provide a full menu of strains, with various levels of potency and complete terpene profiles.”

The Vegas facility currently has 165,000 square feet available; when fully built out, Carpenter notes, it will probably be the largest in the state, producing hundreds of pounds per month. Tryke operates and supplies The Reef, a chain of five sleek dispensaries—two in Vegas, two in the Reno area, and one in Queen Creek, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.

“Everybody in this state is poised for rec,” Carpenter says. “When you talk to local law enforcement, they know it’s coming. When you talk to the regulatory bodies, they expect it to happen. There’s going to be a big shift—and we’ll be ready.”

The roots of the Cannabiotix crew are in California. Neema and JB, the owners, are experienced West Coast growers who saw their genetics score big-time prior to arriving on the Vegas scene. Their Orange Crush (24.4 percent THC) won first prize at the 2015 NorCal Medical Cannabis Cup for Best Hybrid Flower, while Thin Mint Cookies (Cherry Pie x Durban Poison) won top honors in the same category at the 2014 NorCal Cup. And at the Jamaica World Cup last November, their White Walker OG won for Best Indica.

“In California, we felt there was a lot of additive-grown cannabis heavily distributed among the medicinal dispensaries,” Neema says. “Growing up there and having passion for the craft, we wanted to start a cannabis brand rooted in providing the kind of TLC, technique and processing that ensures patients get the best, most exotic, well-grown flowers free of any carcinogenic additives.”

Collecting old-school genetics has been key to Cannabiotix’s success. Neema and JB’s portfolio of strains includes the original Bubble Gum, the original Super Silver Haze and the original Blueberry. “A lot of these classic strains have been lost,” Neema says, “but we’ve been fortunate to hold on to them.”

Colorado seemed the obvious place for the pair to put down roots. But after investigating the Nevada application process, they successfully secured cultivation and production licenses in the Silver State in early 2015.

“Man, it’s been a whirlwind,” Neema says. “We’ve been extremely busy and now have over 70 employees, starting out with maybe 10. In a very short timespan—about a year and a half—our company has just kind of exploded. Now we’re expanding into outdoor and greenhouse grow ops.

“We take a very plant-science approach. We’ve probably run over 420 controlled trial-and-error experiments to test out different mediums, nutrients, watering techniques, light sources, light spectrums and different manipulations of the atmosphere. When I talk about plant science, we’re paying attention to increasing the plants’ metabolic rates to their maximum potential. We tweak and hone our craft. That ultimately translates into bigger, stickier, more crystally buds.”

Twenty-two Cannabiotix strains are available at present. Forty Nevada dispensaries carry their strains, and another 50 in California—and in early November, Cannabiotix’s concentrates will be released to the marketplace.

This is just the beginning for Cannabiotix—and for Nevada. Neema can barely imagine what the demand for great bud will be like when adult recreational use is a reality. Right now, there’s no time to rest.

“Once you commit to the craft and really get wrapped up in it, you’re married to it,” Neema says. “You can’t tell your plants to take a break so you can go on a surf trip to Bali. JB and I haven’t taken a single vacation in the last five, six years. We take pride in our brand. Every time people buy an eighth of Cannabiotix, we want them to go, ‘Wow! This is some of the best-grown medicine ever!’ That’s our whole philosophy.”

As this issue of High Times heads to press, the excitement—and the potential specter of disappointment—is on everyone’s mind. But Election Day won’t stop the momentum. Nevada has embraced the cannabis industry. It’s time to cash in.

Evan Marder, master grower at Matrix NV

Blue Jay Way, Gorilla Glue, Tangilope and Super Sour Diesel in the Matrix NV growroom
Blue Jay Way, Gorilla Glue, Tangilope and Super Sour Diesel in the Matrix NV growroom

The garden: “We depend on highly automated, top-of-the-line equipment, inspired by Good Manufacturing Practice [a system ensuring that products are consistently produced and quality-controlled according to set standards, thereby minimizing the risks that can’t be eliminated by testing in any pharmaceutical product]. GMP and clean-room specifications have led us to use a combination of the finest purified-mineral and refined-organic horticultural inputs. We’ve chosen this method in the pursuit of consistency and exceptional-quality medicine. The high level of automation allows our cultivators to focus their time on active observation and plant care. Still, the pursuit of perfection can be costly, and it requires constant focus on improving efficiencies without negatively impacting the medicine.”

His advice: “The devil is in the details—do not lose the forest for the trees. Do your best to execute even the simplest and most mundane tasks with precision and consistency. Most importantly, stay sharp: pay attention, keep an active eye, and develop and trust your intuition.”

Neema, chief operations officer at Cannabiotix

The Cannabiotix crew in their garden of White Walker OG, Wifi OG and Redeye OG.
The Cannabiotix crew in their garden of White Walker OG, Wifi OG and Redeye OG.

The garden: “My partner JB and I are indoor hydroponic growers who run large-scale boutique-cannabis facilities. Our team primarily grows in coco coir, with a top-feed, drain-to-waste fertilization method. We selected the drain-to-waste feeding method because it allows more control over each feed from one nutrient batch to the next. Furthermore, we hand-water our plants in the vegetation phase, when they’re building their foundations for the remainder of their growth cycle; this lets us ensure that we never under- or overwater them during this time. Our grow philosophy revolves around giving each plant customized individual attention. Quite simply, the more you put in, the more attention you pay to detail, the more you’ll get out of each strain.

“One of our primary concerns is maintaining a sterile environment and implementing the proper sanitation protocols to prevent the introduction of pests and contaminants into our growroom environments. Cleanliness really is next to godliness. If you keep your operation impeccably clean, it will pay huge dividends.”

His advice: “Experience is the best teacher. If you want to become a talented grower, run controlled experiments repeatedly. Collect and interpret the data you gain and use these results to fine-tune your grow game. We honestly believe that cultivating cannabis is a craft that can never be truly mastered. If you work hard, stay humble, meticulously monitor your garden, and pay detailed attention to every step of the grow and the drying and curing process, you’ll always be satisfied with the end result.”

Michael Cooper, master grower at The Source

An expanse of Anslinger approaches harvest at The Source.
An expanse of Anslinger approaches harvest at The Source.

The garden: “Our cultivation operations are based on efficiency and growing the highest-quality cannabis. We strive for cleanliness, standardization and professionalism. We utilize automation for fertigation [the injection of fertilizers, soil amendments and other water-soluble products into the irrigation system] and climate control, which liberates growers’ time so they can keep a vigilant eye on the garden and plant health. We practice a variety of watering techniques, the most common being subsurface irrigation.

“Growing cannabis doesn’t need to be a guessing game. We rely on carefully programmed perpetual harvests, which provide supply consistency. This ensures timely delivery of the freshest possible cannabis to our clients and their customers. The one pronounced risk of highly efficient operations is that the amount of product produced in a short period of time can exceed the demand in early-stage markets. We work closely with our clients to ensure that their business’s scale is in lockstep with their respective markets.”

His advice: “There’s a widely held misconception that cannabis is a golden ticket, an easy path to wealth. It’s not. Cannabis cultivation and retail distribution within a highly regulated system is complex and requires considerable time and attention and a broad array of skill sets. There’s no such thing as a ‘master’ grower—even the most experienced, talented plant scientist and facility operator is always a student.”

Darin Carpenter, cultivation director at Tryke Companies

White Zombie thrives in the Tryke growroom.
White Zombie thrives in the Tryke growroom.

The garden: “With environmental impact and efficiency in mind, I’ve designed Tryke’s cultivations using high-efficiency technologies. Both sites utilize a top-down, drip-fed fertigation system. The Las Vegas facility utilizes an efficient, centralized chilling system that provides several thousand tons of cooling as well as water-recovery systems. Water recycling allows us to reduce environmental impact and cuts the cost by about 40 to 60 percent. Tryke currently utilizes automation to provide consistency in various processes, such as nutrient dosing, irrigation schedules, lighting and environments.

“Currently, the Las Vegas facility employs 46 full-time team members between the veg, flower and finished-products departments. In Phoenix, we employ 25 full-time team members and run virtually the same systems. All rooms are individually controlled and automated. This type of setup provides the highest amount of flexibility in its use and requires relatively low maintenance.

“One drawback, though, is the difficulty of dialing in the water/nutrient-cycle automation for the strains we run. Variations between strains may require different watering and nutrient schedules. Being able to read the plants and give them what they need on the fly is vastly important to the crops’ success. In a nutshell, one nutrient and/or fertigation schedule may not work with every crop. This is dictated by each strain’s health, maturity, environment and own unique needs.

“Additionally, it’s paramount to ensure proper plant health prior to the flowering phase. A system like this needs all of the plants to be the same size and maturity to truly maximize results. If there are plants that aren’t healthy or are less vigorous, you can experience a potential drag on yield.”

His advice: “Never overdo it. Be able to read your plants, from water stress to light stress to nutrient deficiencies. When correcting these problems, never apply more nutrients, water, etc., than what the plant needs. Slowly adjust settings and doses, wait for the plants to respond, and remember to maintain the pH in your media. Take notes on each run and understand where your previous run’s pitfalls may have occurred. This will pay off on your next run with potentially better yield and/or quality.”

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