Grower navigates legalities of medical marijuana industry
Deep inside a spacious Sparks warehouse, Silver State Relief general manager Aron Swan opens the door of flower room 3 in the cultivation facility, and bright purplish light beams out. The air that follows is warm, humid, and thick with the strong smell of growing Cannabis. Inside, on long, low tables, row after row of various strains of potted marijuana plants stretch their distinctive fan-shaped leaves upward toward bright LED lights that hang from above. At the tip of each branch, clusters of white fuzzy female flowers—sinsemilla, the most potent part of the plant—are maturing, but not yet ready to harvest, says Swan.
Silver State Relief, Nevada’s first such dispensary, opened in Sparks in July 2015. Less than three months later, they’ve celebrated their first harvest (successful) and are learning the web of regulations and inspections required of Nevada’s medical marijuana growers and dispensaries. Swan says that the cost of medical marijuana in Nevada is currently more expensive than in California, and his customers often want to know why.
For one, he explained, startup costs are high. Transporting marijuana across state lines is a federal crime, so anyone opening a facility in Nevada must buy all of their plants from existing growers located within the state. Though provisions were not in place for commercial sale of medical marijuana in Nevada until June 2013, the at-home cultivation of up to 12 plants has been legal for medical marijuana cardholders since November 2000. In order to get started, businesses like Silver State Relief have to locate and purchase mature plants from these cardholders, one by one.
The regulatory environment complicates matters and is another added cost in the production stream, says Swan. “We’re subject to inspection at any time. We’ve had two surprise audits. To meet all of the regulatory requirements is extremely cumbersome and labor intensive. It’s very difficult to be efficient. But that’s part of the deal, which is fine, so long as every establishment is treated the same way.”
Before sale, marijuana products must be tested by an independent testing laboratory to determine concentrations of THC and CBD (active cannabinoids present in marijuana), and for presence of mold, fungus, fertilizers and other nutrients and chemicals. “It’s an extra expense, but as a patient you can rest assured that the medicine you are getting is very safe,” Swan said.
Silver State started with approximately 150 plants, but has since expanded its supply with cuttings from mature plants. Now, with row after row of plants with names like “Blue Dream” and “Purple Haze” growing at the Sparks cultivation facility, Swan says they have close to 5,000 plants.
“There’s a lot of overhead, especially starting out,” Swan said. “Now that we have our own harvest, we’ve actually lowered our prices a bit.”
At Silver State Relief, one ounce of legally produced medical marijuana sells for $310 per ounce. According to priceofweed.com, a crowdsourced index of marijuana prices across the U.S. (which draws no distinction between legal or illegally sourced marijuana), the average cost of high-quality marijuana in Nevada is currently $267.97 per ounce. In California, the going rate for the same quantity is $242.57.
Getting the business started has been difficult, says Swan, but the patients make it worth it. “Opening day, patients were giving us hugs,” he said. “It was pretty emotional, actually.”