The first medical marijuana harvest took place Monday in Akron. Elected officials and the media toured the 43,000 square foot facility to take in the ceremonial cutting of the first bud.
As you walk in the front door of the cultivation facility, there is no mistaking where you are.
"You could smell it all the way up the street,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Niles) said with a laugh.
The smell of marijuana lingers in the air as he joins officials from Akron and Summit County, along with the media, in stepping into bright white protective suits.
The zip-up onesies help keep outside contaminants at bay in Akron's only medical marijuana cultivation lab.
"We take very stringent measures to keep the medicine clean and the plants clean here. All the employees shower. We have clean, laundered uniforms," Crop Director Adrien Alvarez said once we had entered the humid "Mother Room." It's the first growing stage in the harvesting process.
And looks like what you think a room full of pot plants would look. About 120 plants stretch out in rows throughout the basketball court-sized room.
"We have a lot of probably the most popular strain in the world. It’s called OG Kush," he said looking out over a sea of green leaves, about 35 different varieties of this particular strain.
These plants are dubbed "mothers" because pieces of them are snipped off and planted in an adjacent lab to grow the marijuana flower. It’s this flower, also referred to as the bud, that will eventually be harvested.
The whole process is called cloning.
"We can take about 16,000 clones out of this room if we needed to. Right now we don’t have that capacity, but every two weeks they take about 2,000 clones off," Alvarez said.
Growing the Bud
The facility is privately owned by AT-CPC of Ohio, a subsidiary of Calyx Peak, which also has holdings in California and Nevada.
AT-CPC of Ohio is licensed as a Level One cultivator, allowing it to grow up to 25,000 square feet of plants. Level Two cultivators are limited to 3,000 square feet.
Alvarez said it takes about 15 weeks from clone to harvest to get the medical cannabis ready. The first harvest should yield about 200 pounds.
One of the state’s licensed testing labs will inspect the product before it's packaged, then it will be sent to one of several dispensaries around the state.
The Road to Implementation
The story of medical marijuana in Ohio goes back to September 2016 when the state legislature approved the basic framework for the program with a target start date two years later.
The state missed that deadline. Instead medical marijuana card holders had to wait until this month to start buying marijuana flower products.
No medical marijuana processors are yet approved to sell other products like edibles, oils or lotions.
Cannabis as Medicine
As the tour snakes out of the grow rooms, Congressman Tim Ryan tells me the people of Ohio want medical marijuana.
"This is a plant that has multiple benefits. We’re learning more and more as things go. The techniques that are used to grow specific plants for specific conditions whether it’s IBS [Irritable Bowel Syndrome] or Parkinson’s or AIDS or cancer, why wouldn’t we want to give patients an opportunity to feel better? And that’s what this is all about."
He thinks the program could help stem the opioid crisis in Ohio.
"The answer in America today is 'just give them more pills.' You know just give them these really strong pills that people end up getting addicted to. And what we're saying here is there are other opportunities like medical marijuana, that people in Ohio support, that we should be exploring at all levels. And that includes in the recovery process from opiates," he said.
The cultivation facility is housed in what used to be an Akron Water Department building. Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said the cultivator turned a nondescript city building into a venture that’s created around 30 jobs.
"You know it turned it from a service garage into kind of a high tech agriculture platform and there’s a lot of science behind that," he said.
It's science that will ultimately help the facility produce hundreds of pounds of medical grade cannabis with each and every harvest.
The tour eventually comes to an end with the ceremonial clipping of a marijuana flower.
That's when we take off our white onesies and head out the door faintly smelling of Akron’s newest crop.