Like the Emerald Triangle in California and the volcanic hillsides of Hawaii, the state of Maine has a history and culture of looking the other way when it comes to the locals growing a little marijuana.
“Nobody cares,” says Jared Dinsmore, head of cultivation operations at Grass Monkey Cannabis Company, located just outside Portland. “The cannabis industry is ingrained here like it is in California.”
The state even has a common strain, though not quite a landrace: Maine Organic Blueberry, known throughout the state by the acronym M.O.B.
Dinsmore himself has been growing for years. He views it as “carrying on tradition.” He got his start more than 10 years ago while going to Acadia College in Nova Scotia, Canada, which he says has a culture surrounding cannabis that’s “far ahead of our own.”
That is most certainly the case in Maine, where despite the voters approving a recreational marijuana program, the state’s throwback, Republican governor continues to veto every attempt to make it happen.
But Dinsmore and his team are planning for the day when their state joins the ranks of the handful of others and the neighboring nation to the north and opens a fully operational marketplace. They have structured their operation to be in complete compliance with current laws, but with an eye on being “competitive” on Day 1 of legality.
“We tried to have as much forethought as possible,” Dinsmore says.
Subdivide then conquer
To say things in Maine’s nascent marijuana industry are a little confusing these days would be an understatement. Though technically legal, the regulations needed to create a marketplace have not yet been written, making the whole state a gray area at the moment.
Currently, it is legal for adults to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana and adults may also cultivate up to six mature marijuana plants at their residence or on another adult’s property with the owner’s permission. Medical marijuana is legal for 17 conditions and those with a doctor’s recommendation can grow their own, purchase it from a registered dispensary or from a registered caregiver.
Dinsmore and several other members of his family, legally co-habitate their facilities as registered caregivers. They grow in the same warehouse space, which is divided into separate suites registered under different caregivers; allowing them to keep the operation legally separated but under the same roof.
As complicated as it seems, everything is on the up-and-up, but once recreational licenses become available, the plan is to pull out the walls, dissolve the individual medical licenses and combine everything into a single, ready-to-go grow space.
“This was our way of getting set up,” Dinsmore says.
Dinsmore and each of the individual licensees, which include cousins and uncles, have their own patients and pay their own taxes. State law allows for each caregiver to grow up to 36 plants, six each for the five patients they are allowed and six for themselves.
Today, Grass Monkey Cannabis Company is today a management and consultant firm, albeit one with a stylish logo and plans to become a larger brand when it legally can.
“All GMCC products are non-cannabis,” Dinsmore says. “We intend to transition everything – all of the individual licenses – to one company and brand that company with GMCC.”
GMCC also leases the warehouse space and owns the equipment, which is subleased to the caregivers.
The Grass Monkey team currently grows in 11,000 square feet of warehouse space outside Portland. Dinsmore calls the set up a “conventional garden” with everything grown in dirt, under a total of 96 lights. According to Dinsmore they use T5 LEDs and Sun Systems 315-watt light emitting ceramics in their veg rooms and 1,000-watt, all-in-one, double-ended high pressure sodium to flower.
The plants are grown in a combination of synthetic nutrients and probiotic soil, though he says the mixture tilts away from the nutrient company recommendations and more toward the probitotics.
The difficulty for the Grass Monkey team has been in scaling up operations from the small, underground grows in which they started.
Dinsmore says he had a friend from his college days in Nova Scotia who was growing and gave him a “handful of beans.” Dinsmore got a light and set up a small operation. From there, he says, it was just a “natural progression” to the warehouse space in which he currently operates.
“I pretty much just graduated to bigger grow facility,” he says.
Today, the company grows more than a dozen strains, all from reputable seed companies. There’s StarDawg, Cherry Blossom Kush, the soon-to-be-renamed Gorilla Glue and AC/DC, among others. They don’t, however, grow the M.O.B. They have a large seed stock though and are constantly on the looks for cultivars that are less known or trendy, hoping to stand out. Dinsmore says Grass Monkey is also moving toward creating its own strains. Its first is a cross of Fire Alien Kush and Thug’s Breath they call “Alien’s Breath.”
Dinsmore says the Grass Monkey philosophy is for employees to “do your work with your head up” and stay vigilant on the needs of the plants.
“We kind of push people to really know the strains,” he says. “You’ve got 30 seconds when you have that (watering) wand in your hand. Use it.”
For example, Dinsmore says they do not look up or note a plant’s flowering time, instead, they watch the plants for the signs it is time to move them and let the plants tell them when to go.
“The plants are doing the work,” he says. “We’re here to shepherd them.”
With Maine’s own cannabis future still unsure, all the folks at Grass Monkey can do is watch and hope. The first goal is to expand the current facility to 30,000 square feet. After that, assuming the governor allows the state’s recreational system to begin operation in 2018 as voters expect, he says the goal is to open a handful of storefronts, all branded with the Grass Monkey logo and name.
“We’d like to have between one and three retail locations in southern Maine,” Dinsmore says.
He says they also plan to vertically integrate the company, which in Maine is allowed. Dinsmore says Grass Monkey plans to grow, extract and make edibles in house. He also hopes to franchise the name, strains, logo and growing techniques across New England, when the laws allow.
So, while the focus today may be on the plants currently growing in the warehouse, Grass Monkey is intent on being ready when the markets finally open.
“We’ve been brand-building on the side,” Dinsmore says.