EXCLUSIVE: Inside a medical marijuana greenhouse
Farming, meet pharmaceutical.
That combination is evident once you set foot inside one of the largest medical marijuana growing facilities in the state, Firelands Scientific in Huron, Ohio.
The greenhouse alone is 25,000 sq. ft. and dedicated solely to growing plants used for medicine.
Flowers harvested here were the first ones sold in Ohio.
"Getting to market first was not part of our goal, although we are proud of the fact that we were the first sale in the state" says Rob McCourt, V.P. of Sales and Marketing at Firelands Scientific.
Construction started on the $20M facility a little more than one year ago with a target date of January 16, 2019. That's the day medical marijuana sales opened to Ohioans who received medical cards from the state. Only an authorized physician can prescribe marijuana to treat chronic illness or pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Firelands Scientific stocked the dispensary The Forest in nearby Sandusky with enough product to get started.
And that's only the beginning.
"We've deployed all of the latest technology available in horticulture to produce such a clean and organic plant," adds McCourt.
For a closer look at what it will take to keep up with demand, Firelands Scientific invited 13abc on a tour.
It starts with security checkpoints, staffed 24 hours a day. Plus, 150 security cameras monitored by the state.
"We have cameras that are watching cameras and cameras watching those cameras," explains Greg Cozzens, Director of Compliance at the company.
The plants themselves start in the propagation room or nursery.
Then, they move on to the "Spring Room." This is where sunlight is adjusted to keep the plants from flowering. In here, they are also sorted, either kept as Mother Plants or moved on to the main greenhouse, where the buds are encouraged to grow.
Each plant will stay in the main greenhouse for several weeks. However, plants go in and out every day.
"Constantly harvesting, and then bringing new ones from vegetative to flower," says Marissa Nagal, a cultivation technician.
After that, the flowers are cut and sent to a drying room. When they come out, they're given a final manicure.
"This is more where you get into like the artistry of the cure," describes Post-Harvest Operations Manager Ben Ziebro.
Branches and leaves are removed so customers are not paying for the excess weight. That extra material will eventually go into making pills, patches and oils once an in-house processing facility opens later this year.
Right now, vaping the flowers is the only legal way to use the drug in Ohio, but that's changing. The state is establishing a system to test those other products to make sure they meet medical standards.
Call it a true growth industry, and Firelands Scientific is the ground floor.