Dispatch #1: The Colorado marijuana connection
When the Mayflower made landfall in Massachusetts in 1620, it brought dreams of religious liberty from the east.
Today, the captains of medical marijuana ventures bearing that fabled ship’s name take inspiration from the opposite compass direction.
A few years ago, when leaders of Mayflower Botanicals Inc. and Mayflower Medicinals Inc. filed their business plans with the state Department of Public Health, they crowed that their teams would include cultivation experts schooled out west in Colorado -- a national cannabis pioneer.
It’s Chapman R. Dickerson as a cultivation consultant for Mayflower Botanicals. And Jaime Lewis as chief operating officer for Mayflower Medicinals.
Today, as I begin reporting from Colorado on the cannabis industry, there appears to be a well-worn path between the two states.
Dickerson started his career as a “bud tender” at a medical marijuana collective in Colorado. After a move to Rhode Island, he built a consulting business and became a registered caregiver to medical marijuana patients.
Lewis boasts a decade of experience in Colorado, including oversight of a dispensary and two cultivation sites. They are just two of dozens of current or former Coloradans whose names appear in documents filed with the DPH.
The Colorado connection runs deep in Massachusetts, as more and more dispensaries come online and as the state prepares for recreational sales in a year.
Other Massachusetts outfits tapping Rocky Mountain experts include Mass Alternative Care Inc. of Springfield, which planned to use MJardin, a 7-year-old national medical marijuana management company that oversees more than two dozen growing facilities, including in Colorado. Liberty Compassion Center Inc. brought on Richard Rondeau, manager of The Green Depot, which sells both medical and recreational weed in Denver.
Heal Inc. signed up Michael Leigh, who the company described as “a seasoned and nationally recognized cultivator within the cannabis industry. As a self-taught expert and trailblazer in the cannabis industry, Leigh was one of the first cultivators in Colorado to legally grow large quantities of medicinal cannabis."
Nearly a decade ago, he founded a company that opened the first dispensary in Boulder.
I could go on. Colorado names sprout like, well, yes, on page after page of filings by would-be medical marijuana nonprofits.
Emerald Fields. Trill Alternatives. Zengold’s Cannabis Wholesale. The List Consulting Services. Evolutionary Ventures.
Steven Derrey is one of those who, after training in the cannabis industry in Colorado, migrated east.
I met Derrey recently while both of us were dressed in hazmat suits and protective booties.
Derrey is in charge of cultivation for Theory Wellness, the medical marijuana nonprofit poised to open Berkshire County’s first dispensary, in Great Barrington. He and his colleagues took me through Theory Wellness’ multi-million-dollar growing facility in Bridgewater, where we stepped repeatedly into the “air shower” designed to prevent contaminants from reaching the flower rooms.
Derrey is a graduate of the online THC University in Colorado. One DPH filing said he “is familiar with dozens of different strains of cannabis, and how each strain’s phenotype differences impact their cannabinoid content, terpene profile, growth time, yields, and ideal climate conditions.”
Yes, this is serious science. And nationally, billions of dollars are riding on the quality of the plants that Derrey and his peers tend.
Recreational marijuana sales rose 66 percent in 2016 in Colorado and Washington, according to the Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, to a combined total of $1.5 billion. The publication, produced by Marijuana Business Daily, forecasts that the recreational and medical markets will reap at least $5.1 billion in sales this year, then rise to over $11.9 billion by 2021.
After earning his “master grower” credential in Colorado, Derrey managed a cultivation facility in Maine, then joined the Theory Wellness team.
Before getting to work in Bridgewater, he was wooed by another firm, Manna Wellness, now known as Temescal Wellness.
“I only work with Theory Wellness at this point in time,” Derrey told me.
Temescal plans to open a dispensary on Callahan Drive off Route 20 on the west side of Pittsfield by the end of the year. After it lost Derrey to Theory Wellness, Temescal hired Jay Kelley as its cultivator. He will work at a growing site now under construction in Worcester, according Julia Germaine, the outfit’s chief operating officer.
Kelley’s buds, and products derived from them, will be sold at dispensaries in Hudson and Framingham, as well as Pittsfield.
“The Worcester production facility should be complete at the end of October. The end is in sight,” Germaine told me.
Germaine notes that Colorado experience doesn’t always translate to success in other states.
“Many, many Colorado consultants have tried and failed to win licenses and start-up ops in Massachusetts,” she said.
While some cannabis cultivation knowledge applies in both states, the climates are different -- and that’s a factor, she said. “Certain building-system design elements, namely HVAC, aren't a simple copy-paste.”
Business relationships are growing between the states. But Germaine thinks Massachusetts will establish itself as an innovator in the cannabis trade, stepping out from under the Colorado shadow.
“It's worth noting that Massachusetts, especially the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires, has a long, rich tradition of cannabis cultivation, as evidenced by the movement of cannabis genetics developed in Massachusetts across the country and the world,” Germaine said.
In time, she argues, Massachusetts will export expertise, not only bring it in.