From sprout to bud: A tour of Billo’s marijuana grow facility
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A sharp, pungent smell like crushed pine needles hit my nostrils as Paul Franklin, co-owner of the Billo marijuana dispensary, opened the door to a flowering room inside the company’s grow facility on the west end of Steamboat on Friday afternoon.
Inside the room, rows of pot plants swayed under bright, yellow-tinted grow lights as fans surrounding the crop mimic a gentle breeze.
Touring the facility gave the impression I was walking through the Star Trek Enterprise. Everything, from the airtight doors to the rainbow glare of LED lights, is designed to make the environment sterile to prevent pests or diseases from damaging the plants and controllable to maintain a steady climate for them.
Digital panels in each room manage the lights, ventilation and air conditioning, allowing employees to make tiny adjustments for optimal growing conditions.
All this technology does not come cheap. Jon Peddie, another Billo owner, said the facility cost more than a million dollars to complete. It is an investment that, in the wake of several changes to local marijuana laws, he hopes will pay off.
On Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council passed an ordinancethat will require local pot shops to source at least 50% of all of their marijuana and marijuana-derived products from within city limits by Jan. 1, 2019.
For Franklin and other dispensary owners, this came as a bit of good news amid efforts to allow more pot shopsin Steamboat as opposed to keeping the current, three-store limit.
Current regulations require each dispensary to produce 70% of its own products, a mandate called vertical integration.
The three shops in town have invested heavily in grow facilities to meet that requirement. Business owners worried that as City Council considers allowing more pot shops, it would axe the vertical integration requirement.
Representatives from Billo and Golden Leaf have attended council meetings in recent weeks, arguing that removing vertical integration would give any new dispensaries an unfair advantage because they would not need to invest in expensive marijuana grow facilities as the current shops have done.
“We just want everyone to have to make the same investment,” Franklin said.
But enough about the money. What Franklin was really interested in showing me was the life cycle of the marijuana plant, from its start as a humble clone to its maturation as a psychoactive flower.
It all begins with the first vegetation process. Employees take cuttings of female plants, which will become clones of the mother. Cloning ensures the cuttings will have the same characteristic as the parent plant, which have been cultivated to offer various effects when people indulge in the finished product.
“All these marijuana plants have different attributes to them,” Franklin said. “And they all taste different.”
The young clones receive 20 hours of light each day, which mimics summer conditions and spurs plant growth.
After the plants get large enough, about two weeks, the clones move to another room to begin the second vegetation process. This includes another 20-hour light regimen each day, plus the addition of nutrients to promote root and stem growth.
After three weeks there, employees induce the flowering process. This takes the longest amount of time. Plants usually spend nine weeks inside one of three flowering rooms at the grow facility, soaking in about 12 hours of light each day.
The reduction in light is supposed to simulate the seasonal transition to fall when marijuana plants focus their energy into bud production. That is when the conical flowers take shape, their piney odor gaining pungency by the day.
According to Franklin, a single flowering room will produce about 70 pounds of flower. For perspective, a single gram of marijuana — there are about 450 grams in a pound — costs anywhere from $12 to $20 in town.
After nine weeks in the flowering room, employees cultivate the flowers. They are hung in a humidity-controlled curing room, much like hops for beer. When they have sufficiently dried, it is time to trim off the leaves and stems, leaving just the high-inducing bud.
Finally, those buds are either stored into bags for delivery to the dispensary or turned into joints and more potent marijuana extracts.
From there, all those products hit the shop’s shelves, ready to give customers the munchies.
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