Living the Dream: John Watson

John Watson
Processing Manager
Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania
Sinking Spring, PA

Medical cannabis processing is a catchall role that can include many things, with duties ranging from drying, trimming and curing to packaging and order fulfillment. And while weather forecasting isn’t on the list, I often find that I pay more attention to climate conditions than I ever have in past jobs.

We’re all aware that even subtle changes in climate can impact cannabis cultivation. Similarly, fluctuations in “weather” conditions can pose risks to post-cultivation quality control. Wild fluctuations in plant moisture content during drying cycles can cause degradation to terpene and cannabinoid potency. If a drying room is kept too warm and too moist, mold can form on the buds and ruin what took several months to produce. That’s why it’s so important for medical cannabis processors to pay careful attention to environmental conditions to ensure plants are neither too moist nor too dry. That means figuring out how to carefully control a host of factors. 

We must control the conditions inside all rooms within the facility, taking into account the outside climate. I’ve worked in Washington state, where it’s usually wet, and in Colorado, where it’s always bone dry, but in Pennsylvania there’s little climate consistency. The weather runs the gamut with humid summers, dry winters and a spring season that thus far has seen large variations in temperature and humidity.

The length and speed of the drying process also depends on location and the grower’s preference. If plants are dried too quickly, you can you lose a lot of potency; too slow and you may pose risk to the health and appearance of drying buds, while disrupting your production schedule. At Prime Wellness, plants spend about two weeks between drying rooms and a climate-controlled drying/curing area. During the drying cycle, plant mass reduces by 75-80% before the buds are removed from stalks and stored for further drying. We check our storage tubs daily for moisture content — even on weekends. We check the local weather forecast before leaving every evening and adjust the dehumidifier and humidifier settings accordingly.

But there’s still no exact way to measure the moisture content in the buds, which fluctuates throughout the drying process. Experience (and making mistakes early in my career) has taught me to know the right look and feel of the plant.

Regulations vary greatly by state, but in Pennsylvania the onus of packaging falls to the grower-processor. Therefore, it’s Prime Wellness’ responsibility to completely pre-package individual units before they leave our facility. Even at this stage, we monitor the temperature and humidity in the trimming and packaging rooms, putting humidifiers in the rooms if needed to keep the buds from getting too dry.

Pennsylvania regulations also mandate packaging must be opaque, so patients can’t see the product before purchase. This makes it even more important that when first-time patients open the jar, they are impressed by the smell and the appearance of robust, uniform, well-trimmed buds. At Prime Wellness, we aim to exceed expectations for every patient who tries our flower.

What goes into the jar — and what comes out of it — is all about experience.

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