DENVER—With state compliance, product safety and so many other issues to contend with, dispensary owners and managers might never consider attending an event to network with cultivators. But if they had dropped in on the CannaGrow Expo (held here Oct. 29-30), they would have gained valuable knowledge on the issues driving the future of cannabis.
The expo captured the latest in best practices and new developments in growing and processing, with sessions that could help any industry professional stay ahead in a rapidly evolving market. To name just a few, session topics included growing plants organically (and even veganically; that is, without animal products), producing strains with greater cannabinoid and terpene levels, and extracting purer, higher quality concentrates.
More than 400 growers, processors and others gathered at CannaGrow Expo to hear renowned speakers and examine leading-edge grow solutions in the exhibit hall. The two-day educational experience was produced by CannaConnections Events (CCE). Dispensary Management Today’s sister publication Cannabis Cultivation Today was a media sponsor of the expo.
While CCE’s DispensaryNext Conference and Expo is specially tailored to dispensary owners, managers and marketing directors, CCE Founder Joseph De Palma said that CannaGrow Expo itself contained valuable information for dispensary professionals. “It’s about improvement and becoming better at your craft.”
Regardless of the service that a business offers to the industry—cultivating, processing, selling, consulting or other—it makes sense that any professional would want to keep up-to-date with the latest advances in cannabis. “If you’re not staying on top of the development and the new standards that are coming out, and seeing what others are doing, you’re perpetually behind,” De Palma said. “If you’re looking at this as a dispensary owner or dispensary personnel, you should absolutely be here.
“The people here are growing world-class cannabis,” he added. “If that’s what you’re selling, why aren’t you here?”
During its two dozen sessions, the expo shone a spotlight on new ways to grow cannabis “greener” than ever. In fact, sustainability—being consistently friendly to the environment—stood out as one of the weekend’s overarching themes. For example, Endocannabinoidology LLC founder Christie Lunsford and Pro MAX Grow’s master grower Ellen Taylor Brown gave a presentation on sound, sustainable practices for an industry that has grown increasingly environmentally conscious over the past few years. They discussed reducing a business’s carbon footprint by investing in new lighting systems and insulation and recycling water and heat.
The topic of packaging drew applause from the audience, since easily identifiable edibles has brought a lot of media attention to Colorado’s cannabis industry in recent months. “We want to see biodegradable packaging,” Brown said. “I would love to get cannabis into hemp-based packaging.”
Pesticides, another controversial topic, also triggered concerns from the audience. “Our cannabis is cleaner than our food,” Lunsford said. “Everything on the rec market has to clear testing at parts per million.”
Cultivation rapidly evolving from an art to a science was another major expo theme. Attendees learned about soil science and basic botany, extraction safety, varieties of boutique cannabis, the processing of high levels of CBD, and the cutting-edge work under way in genetics, genomics, chemotypes and breeding.
For example, Zacariah Hildenbrand, Ph.D., chief scientific officer for the Mesa, Ariz.-based C4 Laboratories, said that scientists can collaborate with cultivators to develop more rare strains of cannabis that offer lesser-known but medically important cannabinoids. C4 is currently working on the C4 Cannabinomics Collaborative, a project designed to explore the myriad of useful compounds in the cannabis plant. This research could have major implications not only for growers but also for medical dispensaries.
In another session, a panel of breeders and cultivators provided insights on the emerging demand for craft, boutique cannabis. Taking a cue from the craft beer industry, panelists suggested that offering a unique, high-quality product can help growers stand out even in a saturated market. The same advice holds true for dispensaries.
Growing craft cannabis is a labor- and time-intensive process, and it usually takes longer to produce. However, “the end result is spectacular cannabis, consistent cannabis, and I always know it’s going to be really good,” said Michael Cawley, owner and grower at Geek Farms.
During the session “Extracts by Design,” Colorado-based industry consultant Murphy Murri offered a sobering reminder of the importance of designing extraction facilities with employee safety in mind. “When you think about your space, you have to think about your people,” she said.
Producing and selling hash can create a source of immediate cash, making it one of the most profitable products that a dispensary can offer. However, she stressed that poorly designed extraction facilities can endanger and demoralize staff.
Growing the most beneficial product for patients and customers was discussed during the Genetics and Breeding panel. Among various topics, panelists fielded questions about terpenes, the other chemical components of cannabis (besides cannabinoids) that contribute to the plant’s health benefits and its psychoactive effects.
Long time cannabis breeder, hemp farmer and grower Shane Yoakam (known by colleagues as Suny Cheba) advised the audience to pay special attention during harvesting. “As soon as you pick that flower, the terpenes and flavonoids start going away.”
He added, “You have to harvest when that plant’s trichomes are at the right point.” The correct harvesting time, however, is always strain-specific. “That can be anywhere from clear to milky to a little amber. That’s how you save the terpenes.”
Concurrent with the sessions, about 80 vendors in the expo hall displayed cultivation and processing products and services designed especially for the cannabis industry, as well as many solutions that have found success over the years with other types of crops.
As with many industry expos, more than a handful of companies lit up the exhibit floor with advanced LED grow lighting equipment for cannabis. Other innovative approaches included water treatment and irrigation systems; hydroponics systems; “living soil” that contains helpful bacteria, fungi and/or earthworm castings; and extraction equipment for high quality concentrates.
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