Inside an Ohio medical marijuana processing facility

By Laura Hancock,

ZANESVILLE, Ohio – During the first months after Ohio’s medical marijuana dispensaries opened, the only product for sale was flower. But that’s changing.

State regulators have given certificates of operation to two medical marijuana processors that create products with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – Grow Ohio LLC and Standard Wellness in Sandusky.

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Grow Ohio allowed us to visit its facility, in Newton Township, near Zanesville, and showed us how it makes tinctures, oils and gummies.

At this point, only tinctures are available at dispensaries, sold under the brand Butterfly Effect.

Grow Ohio has a cultivation license from the state and has been growing the plants from which the THC is extracted for its products.

The cultivation space is in the same location as are the labs for the processing.

“There’s a lot of science that goes into it,” said Grow Ohio’s Josh Febus. “You’re going to take the plants, they’re going to be grown to the quality to be harvested. You’re going to have terpene profiles, you’re going to have cannabinoid profiles — different specific profiles of that plant that will then be extracted and processed out, so that you will concentrate the oils together.”

The terpene and cannabinoid profiles contribute to a strand’s taste and smell.

Febus said they have medicinal effects, too.

Grow Ohio employs scientists and has workers with experience extracting THC in other states where it’s legal.

There’s a reason Grow Ohio’s operations are in Muskingum County: to be next to a Quasar Energy Group biogas plant.

The biogas is methane generated from food, oils and sewer sludge.

Grow Ohio uses sodium lights to grow marijuana plants. Febus said that energy is the operation’s greatest cost.

The company also contributes to the creation of energy by providing Quasar the undesirable parts of the plants.

“And all our waste goes down to that location,” he said, explaining that the operation is part of an energy loop.

After plants are harvested, trimmed, dried and cured, they get randomly sampled by a state-regulated marijuana tester for THC potency levels and pesticides.

The bag above contains 68 grams of dried trim that Grow Ohio will grind up for processing.

Up to 10 pounds of the ground plant material gets put into the extraction system.

Inside the system, carbon dioxide is pumped through the marijuana material to extract the terpenes and cannabinoids, including THC.

It’s done in two runs. Each run takes three to five hours.

Employees collect an oil from the machine that is the product of extraction.

The carbon dioxide evaporates off the oil.

When visited the company last month, it was still calibrating its machinery. There was nothing in the extraction system.

“The more aggressive you get with extraction, the more you are going to pull off of the plant,” Febus said. “Meaning, if I want 90 percent potency (of THC in the oil) I’m going to bring a lot more stuff with it — the baggage, we’ll call it. Like waxes, lipids and so on.”

Oil with the “baggage” isn’t a good product, he said.

So it has to be refined to remove the unwanted parts of the oil, which the above machine does.

To figure out the process, Grow Ohio executives traveled to states where marijuana is legal, Febus said.

“We’ve been to Colorado a handful of times, California, Nevada,” he said.

The company also hired a consultant from Colorado and a director of extraction from Massachusetts.

Grow Ohio employees, when they start making gummies for sale, will first put the oil in a nano-emulsification machine that sits on a counter, and uses sound to break an oil droplet into 1,001 droplets.

“Why is that important?” Febus asks. “Because in the edibles I don’t want any hot spots (of high concentration.) I want a smooth ride.”

Tinctures are liquids inside bottles with droppers that patients place under the tongue.

They are the first THC-infused products Grow Ohio has on the market. The oils will be next, followed by gummies.

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