By ARDEN BASTIA In an unassuming warehouse tucked behind Jefferson Boulevard, Growth Industries is revolutionizing marijuana cultivation and standardizing medicine. Alex Lavin, CEO and founder of Growth Industries, emphasizes this grow operation is
In an unassuming warehouse tucked behind Jefferson Boulevard, Growth Industries is revolutionizing marijuana cultivation and standardizing medicine.
Alex Lavin, CEO and founder of Growth Industries, emphasizes this grow operation is vastly different from what one might picture. This isn’t a single plant grown in a basement for personal use, but a world-class operation that is creating standards in an industry that lacks universal regulations.
“Our main goal for all this,” Lavin said, “was to create a standardized system. I give the analogy of Advil. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Rhode Island, California or Florida. If you pick up a bottle of Advil, it is the same thing day in and day out, wherever you are.”
Lavin raised $7.5 million for the 10,000-square-foot facility, which is like a hidden Willy Wonka factory. The outside of the warehouse is a dull, drab gray, and the only indication of what’s inside is a small green “G” on the door – so small it’s easy to accidentally miss the door and walk into an entirely different office.
But upon entering, visitors find a small lobby where a large television showcases high-resolution images of marijuana. To get into the actual facility, visitors must go through a sanitation chamber, suiting up in a white jumpsuit, hair net, latex gloves and booties. They are then blasted with air.
Then comes a series of security checks. Lavin peered into a small camera just before the door. “Facial recognition,” he explained.
Once beyond the security checkpoint, there is a hallway lined with several doors. Behind each door, a different stage of the grow process is taking place.
When Lavin pulls a long cord hanging from the wall, a garage-style door opens to a brightly lit room. Young, spry, green plants are suspended in layers from floor to ceiling and swaying gently in the light breeze from small fans. Notably, there was minimal odor, and Lavin explained that the building was specifically engineered to contain the pungent smell of weed to just that corridor.
“What you see in this facility is normally like having a 20,000-square-foot facility,” he said.
In the adjoining room, bright white light is replaced with soft yellow bulbs to help the plants through the flowering stage. Plants 4 feet tall sprout from long tables, each carefully tagged and labeled. Illuminated by the warm light, Lavin explained that the environmental controls are precisely kept, measuring oxygen and CO2 levels in each room.
Growth Industries boasts high-tech, top-of-the-line equipment, used by the likes of NASA, Harvard and MIT. The building was designed to have a negative carbon footprint. The heat from the grow lamps is recycled back into the building to cut down on winter heating costs. The facility produces 200 to 300 gallons of water per day, and leftover water is collected in barrels to be reused for the end of day cleaning or for future plants. In fact, says Lavin, the facility has 30 percent lower production costs than any other cultivation center across the United States.
This statistic is important to Lavin, and he explained that the low cost of production directly translates to a lower cost for consumers. He is especially passionate about making cannabis accessible for both first-time and well-seasoned cannabis consumers.
“We grow a variety for patients. We don’t just try to grow one kind to make the most money. We do it so than we can give a variety,” he said.
Strains of cannabis are named after food or dessert, like Cherry Sundae and Champagne, making cannabis available to those that may not know where to start. Lavin has carefully teased out, as he put it, “the pothead culture that is still present in the industry” and replaced it with a highbrow standard of medicine.
Lavin works alongside a team of medical professionals, including Dr. Alvin Llanos, formally from the University of Miami, who now spearheads quality control and medicinal curation.
The mostly automated operation has eliminated the possibility of human error. Lavin explained that while the hands-off style of production was key, he is, in fact, looking to hire an additional 50 employees.
“Our main focal point is the testing aspect and the processing aspect,” he said. “We have fact checking on fact checks. We have the individuals doing fact checking, we have the data analytics, and then we have another ancillary system that checks that.”
What sets Growth Industries apart from other cultivation centers is the focus on genetics. Lavin explained that they only use tissue cultures, as opposed to seeds or clones. This way, every part of the grow process can be closely monitored and the quality can be more easily controlled. Seeds and clones have the potential to grow mold and mildew pathogens, and Lavin is staunchly against anything of the sort in his product.
Lavin’s goal for Growth Industries, which was founded in 2006 in Humboldt, California, is to expand into clinical trial studies. He pointed out that the process Growth Industries follows is similar to the process food and health care products must go through before they hit the shelves of Walmart or Stop & Shop.
“Right now in this state, it’s been a little bit lackadaisical when it comes down to testing regimens and facility outfits,” he said. “Measure twice and cut once is our model.”
With 15 years in the cannabis industry, Lavin has witnessed the varied methods of cultivation. “It doesn’t matter if it’s recreational or medicinal,” he said. “The same standards will apply.”
Lavin sits on the Council for Cannabis Condition Control and knows that to sell products the facility must be CGMP compliant, or in accordance with Certified Good Manufacturing Practices. He has made it the mission of Growth Industries to be at the forefront of these practices.
“My main objective is to be the leader in quality standards, but most importantly, give it to patients and consumers at an affordable price that feel very comfortable with,” he said.
This past spring, Gov. Gina Raimondo proposed new medical marijuana regulations. A lottery system and geographic zoning would be established to determine new cultivation and dispensary licenses. The discussion of new marijuana licenses has been in the works for well over a year. The applications for licenses went live in July and the state plans to randomly select one applicant from each of six geographic zones in a lottery early next year.
According to Brian Hodge, Director of Communications for Rhode Island Commerce, more details about the review process and the lottery will be available once the application closes on Dec. 15.
There is no set date for the lottery, but its anticipated to take place in early 2021.
Speaking to the proposed lottery, Lavin said that Growth Industries “will stay in our lane” and let merit speak for itself.
“What I always tell everyone is, if you’re going to buy medicine, would you rather want to buy something that was built in a basement?” he said. “For all the competition that’s out there, you know, we’re all in the same industry; we’re all in this together. But I am looking at it from the standpoint of quality measures.”
In the long range, he imagines a Fortune 500 company will step in and acquire the company.