It is a barely five-minute walk from Valens Groworks to the equally-nondescript home of licensed cannabis grower Flowr Corporation.
Just like the cannabis extraction giant around the corner, Flowr has not stamped its name on the building of a former piping company it now occupies. However, the 50,000 cannabis plants the company has been allowed to grow outdoors on its property since mid-July are a dead giveaway.
Dr. Lyle Oberg, chief policy and medical officer at Flowr, showed Cannabis Professional around the entire property as part of the fourth stop on The Road Ahead tour. Below are five of the company’s key strategies:
“We send our irradiated stuff to Germany”
Most legal cannabis sold in Canada is exposed to ultraviolet light or gamma radiation before it is packaged for sale. Similar to what has long been common practice for fruits and vegetables, the purpose is to eliminate mould and other undesirables from a product before it reaches the consumer.
Flowr tries not to irradiate any more than 10 per cent of the cannabis it grows, Dr. Oberg said. Trained as a medical doctor, he is a believer in the so-called “entourage effect” that argues cannabinoid content – such as THC or CBD – is only partially responsible for the effects of cannabis. The mix of terpenes and flavonoids (chemicals responsible for a plant’s colouring) that differs dramatically between different cannabis strains are equally important, according to the idea behind the entourage effect.
"One thing we pride ourselves on is not irradiating, because when you irradiate, there is evidence that a lot of the terpenes [smell-creating chemicals present in all plants] are destroyed or changed, some are left, some are not," Dr. Oberg said.
“But countries, especially medical counties, want irradiated cannabis, especially when it is being imported. So we send our irradiated stuff to Germany because that is what they’re asking for,” he said. “The non-irradiated product is better in a recreational market, by far, but the irradiated product is better in a medical market because that is what they’re demanding.”
Mr. Oberg added that the company also ships some of its non-irradiated product to Germany.
Smaller buds become pre-rolls
"We take the ancillary buds, which are the smaller buds and we mechanically trim them and the reason for that is because they are all used for pre-rolls so they get ground up and milled anyways," Dr. Oberg explained during a stop in what he called the "manicuring room" of the facility. "The main bud we actually trim by hand, which we think gives a better result. Then the buds are cured and are brought back here [to the trimming room] and we trim away basically anything that doesn’t look good. I think manicuring is probably the best term for what they’re doing."
In-house construction crew
Flowr is currently utilizing exactly half of its current space, which is divided into 10 growing rooms each containing roughly between 5,000 and 8,000 cannabis plants. The company is still in the process of replicating that layout in the other half of their facility, though that project was originally expected to be completed earlier this year.
One of the ways Flowr is attempting to speed up the process, which Dr. Oberg said should “definitely” be completed and operational before the end of 2019, is by employing an internal construction workforce as part of its general maintenance team as opposed to hiring a third-party contractor.
"We didn’t want to get into a situation where a contractor comes in and pulls people off and takes them to another project. These guys are here just for this project," Dr. Oberg said, gesturing to about two dozen workers that were in the process of installing grow tables.
"We are in a rush to get it going because the quicker we get it up and running the quicker we get more production and the quicker we get more revenue. It is as simple as that. With them working with us we know they are going to come here every day," he said. "They aren’t going to go to a different site."
Outdoor grow destined for live resin-based vape pens
Flowr is among a handful of LPs allowed to cultivate cannabis outdoors. The company originally applied for an amendment to its existing licence for the outdoor grow, as the property it planned to use was directly across from its existing facility.
"All of a sudden after we didn’t hear from Health Canada for a month and we thought everything was going wonderfully and then they came back and told us we needed a whole new licence," Dr. Oberg said. "It blew [our planting timeline], but thankfully because there really isn’t a lot of difference between an amendment to a licence and a new licence from an information point of view, so we only had to make a few tweaks."
The original goal was to get planting by May 1, Dr. Oberg said, but because of the licencing delay, the outdoor grow could not begin until mid-July. Roughly 50,000 cannabis plants went in the ground in less than a week, Dr. Oberg said, supplied by 42 greenhouses holding 1,000 plants each and another 8,000 plants in an open field.
Most cannabis grown outdoors in Canada is destined to be processed into extract, largely because the unpredictable conditions make it nearly impossible to maintain consistency among different plants. While much of that extract is expected to be in the form of distillate, which consists entirely of cannabinoids such as THC or CBD, Flowr is taking a slightly different approach. In keeping with Dr. Oberg’s support for the “entourage effect”, the company intends on processing its outdoor grow into live resin, which is a type of cannabis extract that includes all the other elements such as terpenes that were present in the original plant.
"We are doing a live resin extract for our vape pens, which is a novel process," said Deron Caplan, director of plant science at Flowr. "That is what we’re doing that is special. There are a few producers in California who are doing this and we are learning from one of them. We have gone out and tried some of their product, it is out of this world."
Details on the “exclusive strategic R&D alliance” with Scotts Miracle-Gro
Flowr, together with a subsidiary of global fertilizer giant Scotts Miracle-Gro, broke ground on a 50,000-sq-foot research and development facility adjacent to Flowr’s main building just a few days before recreational cannabis legalization took effect last Oct. 17.
As of late September, 2019, the structure has clearly taken form. While Dr. Oberg could not say exactly when the facility would be completed, he provided some detail on how the space would eventually be allocated.
“The bottom level is for Scotts Hawthorne, and that will be for researching things that they do like substrates and lighting and equipment, and the second floor will be a genetics floor,” he said “That will be our plant breeding program.”
Flowr currently grows new genetics in part of an existing indoor grow room as well as one of its 42 outdoor greenhouses; at least one of each new type of cannabis being tested is placed in both indoor and outdoor environments to gauge potential differences. Once the R&D facility is completed, Dr. Oberg said the company will gain a greater ability to “breed in and breed out” certain traits in the cannabis it grows.