Living the Dream: Seth Oxhandler
We’ve been working on it for some time now, but I can finally announce that High 5 has achieved a first for the global cannabis industry. Utilizing a close working relationship with Fruit of the Earth Organics in Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Organic Alcohol Company of Ashland, Oregon, we have created the first vape cartridges using specialty, 190-proof organic alcohol made from lychee nuts for extraction.
The unique solvent lent itself brilliantly to the extraction process. The plant material strain named “24K Gold” was provided by Fruit of the Earth Organics for the experiment. High 5 CEO Brianna Oxhandler hoped that the name would be a prelude to the clarity and purity that she has seen from truly high-end material. The testing and corroboration of the experiment was provided by Rio Grande Analytics, a state-approved testing lab.
Being a single-solvent facility, our team is used to the somewhat acrid scent of ethanol, and there are often some stinky moments during the post-extraction refinement process.
But on extraction day for this project, the facility was blessed with a soft, sweet scent. It wasn’t a strong smell, but every now and again you would get a scent and it would make you pause until you remembered: it was lychee!
During the refinement process, we had the same soft scent in the lab and were astounded by the clarity. We attributed the clarity to the quality and freshness of the material, along with our “power cold” protocol.
The idea, originally formulated by Brianna, myself and Bobby Townsend, vice president of the Organic Alcohol Company, was to impart organic, natural terpenes to distillate through the extraction process. We established the standard operating procedures for the process that I carried out with lab tech Aiden Luna and oversight from Brianna. The success of this experiment can be found at Fruit of the Earth Organics’ dispensary in Santa Fe. This one-of-a-kind application of imparting terpenes through the extraction process has yielded an inhalable product that is unparalleled. The light, sweet hint of lychee is absolutely astounding.
This establishes the infusion of flavor at the beginning of the process and is carried through to the end product. While most manufacturers are adding terpenes afterward, High 5 has proven again that beginning-to-end thinking produces a unique and superior all organic product with patient health as the first and foremost focus.
Living the Dream: Seth Oxhandler
When we started out as a manufacturer, one of the challenges we had to overcome was how to actually manufacture our product.
We had no infrastructure and started to fill a space piece by piece. At the time, no one else in the state would talk to us, and being meticulous people, we had to figure a lot of things out for ourselves. We bought books, researched information on the internet (mostly garbage at the time) and had the plant material from our own personal production license to experiment with.
Being family-oriented, we didn’t want to use harsh chemicals or poisons in our practice. We figured out a manual method using food-grade ethanol and augmented and automated it. We now produce cleaner lab samples in better concentrations on our first and only pass in three to four days less time than many of our peers.
As an edibles company, High 5 is focused on the fact that what we make goes into someone’s mouth. Utilizing the highest-quality ethanol sourced from our partners at the organic alcohol company and the highest-quality organic ingredients means you can taste the difference. This difference led to a great deal of interest in how we do the voodoo that we do.
Shortly thereafter, we realized that we could fill a niche in the laboratory supply market for both a low-cost system and one that uses only food-grade ethanol. So, what started out as an edibles manufacturer has now spawned a laboratory supply company that focuses on getting people going from the ground up.
When we originally put our production facility together, we bought used equipment because of the cost considerations. High 5 Lab Supply is now in the process of setting up extraction, distillation and refinement with training on its super-CBD ethanol protocol for Best Dayz Dispensary. Because the install and set-up are occurring at the time of the writing, we expect them to be producing the highest quality oil without residual solvents in the next few weeks.
Living the Dream: Seth Oxhandler
As a manufacturer, we found that the crux of what we do is dependent on the quality of our extracts, and that is dependent on the quality of our solvent. For us, we have totally committed to working with organic, edible components, so we use ethanol.
In this genre of solvents, we have found a friend in the Organic Alcohol Company. A close, working relationship has allowed both companies to collaborate to each other’s mutual benefit. Upon request, the Organic Alcohol Company developed specialty organic alcohols that we now use in our line of craft cartridges. The Organic Alcohol Company has produced organic alcohol from lychee, coconut, orange and lemon. Utilizing specialty alcohol has enabled us to provide all-natural craft cartridges to our partners.
But after we finally secured our new facility, the next thing High Five needed was packaging for our products.
Having previously worked at Fortune 500 companies, my thought in an undefined market was to work with a publicly traded company. I thought it would not only add validity to what we did, but that we could operate within normal business practices. What a mistake.
Going to the largest packing company just got us lost in the shuffle and forced us to work in its elongated corporate timelines. This ran counter to what we really needed and how fast we needed things to happen. As a startup, ordering labels in quantities of 10,000 and having to wait 90 days to get them put the brakes on production.
We needed to work with a resource that could produce a label design in a few days, not six weeks. We needed a resource that could answer a question and make something happen on the same day. We needed a resource that understood how a manufacturer works so that we could make changes and have the labels back in short time. Plus, we needed to be able to make small orders for test marketing.
THC Labels has exceeded my jaded expectations. They are able to produce art mock-ups for labels while we work with them on the phone. We utilize their expertise for sourcing a variety of materials that not only enhance the way our products look but allow us more flexibility than our competitors.
Working with companies who are partners — real partners who care and want to help you move forward — is as important as going to work.
Living the Dream: Seth Oxhandler
My wife and CEO Brianna started High Five as a licensed processing company in New Mexico, the first thing we did was secure a commercial kitchen on the back of a defunct restaurant, thinking that would work since restaurants are required to have their kitchens approved by the state before they open. But there were some very critical things that were not considered that summer, like heating for the coming winter.
Our extraction method utilized extreme cold, as in cryogenic. Working with alcohol at minus-125 degrees, in the dead of winter on a concrete floor, you get chilled to the bone and stay that way until you can get home and take a bath. We tried to get the 40-year-old overhead heaters working, but the parts required were no longer being manufactured. We called the landlord for help. He suggested that we turn on the burners of the commercial stove.
We explained that we really needed the heat to work and that an open flame with flammable vapors was not the best idea; he suggested we stop complaining.
What happened next was the unfolding of a few lessons. First, it’s important to read — REALLY READ — your lease and look for the usage clause. We thought that since we didn’t have heat we could withhold the rent. Because we didn’t deeply read through the lease we didn’t realize that the landlord was within his right to lock us out. The only solution to a degrading situation was to either give up on the business and go back to Corporate America or relocate to a new facility. I like pot too much to go back to IBM so we went in search of a new location.
That brought us to our next lesson: Don’t needlessly limit yourself. At first, we were set on owning a building, believing that would protect us from future landlord issues. We nearly bought one facility but then were snaked out by a higher bid at the last moment, which was actually a thankful turn of events since we were able to leverage the sellers guilt to secure a better spot that we could rent long-term with all the right zoning and room for expansion.
Now we have been in our new facility for just over a year and are about to start a five-figure electrical upgrade. The facility’s electrical infrastructure was fine for where we were a year ago, but we knew that as we grew we would have to add capacity and this facility was set for growth.
Seth Oxhandler is no stranger to high-flying excitement.
The former IBM engineer has completed more than 3,000 successful sky-diving jumps, but he’s also experienced a few hard landings along the way and acquired a medical marijuana authorization along the way to treat the various injuries suffered as a daredevil.
However, when he brought home some cannabis-infused chocolate bars to show his wife, Brianna, she was appalled — not by the cannabis, but from the quality of ingredients being used in the treats. So she insisted on infusing and baking the edibles herself.
Oxhandler admits he’s biased when it comes to his wife’s baking, but says her cookies were better than anything he could find at a dispensary — or anywhere else on the planet, for that matter. When a local dispensary offered Brianna a position as its head cook, she turned down the offer — and the accompanying non-compete agreement — so the couple could pursue their own processing license. They started High 5 Edibles in Santa Fe, New Mexico in September 2016 and the company took off from there.
“It’s been a fast trajectory,” Oxhandler says. “We put our first products on the shelves in November and we’re already in 10 dispensaries.”
After a brief stint at a defunct restaurant, High 5 relocated to a 1,600-square-foot commercial space in Santa Fe. The Oxhandlers immediately gutted the building, leaving behind a two-story warehouse shell for all of High 5’s business operations. They designed the facility to include a large production area for packaging, shipping and receiving in the front, while a commercial kitchen and extraction lab divide the back half.
High 5 is perpetually refining its operations to increase efficiency and stay ahead of the competition.
“At the end of the day we’re in the service industry and if you’re producing something that is going into somebody’s mouth, then I would think that you would want it to be as fresh as possible,” Oxhandler explains.
The company maintains an inventory of extracts so it can fulfill orders from retail partners quickly.
“This way if we get a call we can fill an order within 72 hours,” he says.
Oxhandler says Steep Hill is the fastest and most accurate testing lab in the state, which is crucial for keeping High 5 operating efficiently.
“We can’t do anything until we get lab results,” he says.
As with most manufacturers of infused products, labeling can be a major bottleneck. Prior to working with THC Labels, High 5 had to order labels before testing had been completed and hope everything matched the company’s projections. One miscalculation could leave the manufacturer stuck with incorrect labels, so the ability to print at will has been a game-changer.
THC Labels “are as important as the system and methodology that we use for extraction,” Oxhandler says. “They are the reason our logo looks so good and why we can do short order and specialty items.”
As a relative newcomer in the cannabis space, High 5 had to evolve quickly.
In terms of extraction techniques, the company started out as “cave people,” Oxhandler says. But Ecodyst CEO and co-founder George Adjabeng helped them become “space people.”
“I studied all the methods that are being used in the industry for extraction,” Adjabeng says. “After I read through the articles that had been published and from my own studies, I think in the long run ethanol extraction is going to win over CO2 and butane extraction.”
Adjabeng, an award-winning chemist, worked with High 5 to develop a faster ethanol extraction machine that uses condenser coils to chill ethanol below minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit, drawing out the plant’s terpenes and cannabinoids in less than two hours and leading Oxhandler to give Adjabeng the nickname “Dr. Freeze.”
“For us to have the eyes and ears of someone like George, with his background, having that kind of scientist in this industry definitely helps,” Oxhandler says. “I feel like the deck is stacked in our favor.”
Abjabeng built the prototype specifically for cannabis with the goal of eliminating residual solvents and the need for winterization.
“When I looked at it, the problem with alcohol extraction isn’t the alcohol,” Adjabeng says. “It was the method.”
By cooling the ethanol with a condenser coil, Adjabeng says the extraction can immediately pull the terpenes and cannabinoids from plants without requiring intense pressure, keeping the plant wax frozen in place.
“Ethanol is not able to pull the plant’s wax because it is so cold, but it is able to harness all of the plant’s materials,” Adjabeng says. “You are not leaving anything behind.”
Efficient access to extract allows High 5 to produce edibles for vendors without compromising patient or processor safety and the machine’s ability to continuously recycle excess ethanol keeps processing costs to a minimum.
Naturally Baked …
High 5’s kitchen features necessities such as two 20-quart mixers, a chocolate tempering machine, a Rosin Tech RTP press and a double-stack oven that allows the company to bake 200 cookies at a time.
But while a better extraction machine can lead to better extracts, the same concept doesn’t necessarily apply to cooking, where the chef and the ingredients have greater impact on the final product.
Anyone with professional cooking experience can attest that making the best food requires the best ingredients. That’s why High 5 CEO and head chef Brianna Oxhandler goes to great lengths to source the best available ingredients for the company’s candies, croissants and fruit spreads, among other infused delicacies. Every ingredient has been verified as organic, excluding the cannabis for federal reasons.
“We source from everywhere,” Brianna says. “It seems like almost every ingredient we get is from a different supplier.”
“All the products, recipes, time, effort — that’s all her,” Oxhandler adds. “The amount of paperwork I did to get licensed with the state pales in comparison to what she has had to do to source different ingredients.”
And it’s not just about flavor and potency. For High 5’s popular Vitamin C gummy bears, Brianna had to develop a new recipe to allow them to be transported under the intense summer heat without losing stability.
That attention to detail also extends to the company’s topical products. Having previously worked in the spa industry, Brianna tracked down a distributor that allows her to special order arnica by the gallon. Arnica, a key ingredient in High 5’s topical salve, is typically sold by the milliliter in limited quantities.
“It’s made to order and takes basically three weeks to get here,” she says. “I had trouble for months sourcing that in quantity because I wanted it to be pure. It took me four months to get it by the gallon, undiluted.”
… In Santa Fe
Despite being so passionate about the industry and their products, the Oxhandlers never saw themselves in cannabis — let alone Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was only four years ago that the couple decided to move to Lake Tahoe, but couldn’t find a reasonable location that matched their vision.
“We ended up here because with exception of the water, Santa Fe has everything we wanted that Lake Tahoe didn’t,” Oxhandler says. “When we moved here, we thought we were going to buy government-repossessed houses and flip them.”
Now Oxhandler affectionately refers to Santa Fe as “Mayberry on the Mesa,” taking great pride in explaining how he found a small town in a big city.
“Store owners pick up cigarette butts out of the gutter here,” he says. “It’s amazing.”