Sitting in a cramped SUV filled with eager journalists on the way to tour what will ultimately become the largest indoor marijuana grow in the United States, it quickly became clear that we weren’t in Denver anymore.
Beautiful brick architecture gave way to a barren desert that seemed to go all the way to the Rockies, complete with actual tumbleweeds. This is Pueblo, Colorado, and in just a couple of short years, it could very well represent one of the epicenters of cannabis innovation.
It’s crisp, even, dare I say, cold, and my New England roots were embarrassed by my newfound California sensibilities for only bringing a hoodie. I’m glad the cold hit me like that because it really accentuated the surroundings. There were far more structures than people, at least that we saw, and there weren’t many structures.
A kind elderly woman was sitting next to me on my quick flight to Denver and we engaged in conversation about our respective trips. She was just visiting picturesque Orange County, California, making the opposite trek I was on this early Friday morning. She asked my occupation, and though I often use discretion in this situation so I don’t make the entire plane ride awkward by telling someone’s ultraconservative grandma about the intricacies of flower rosin in comparison to more harmful additive-laden extracts, but I figured a Coloradan could handle it. I explained my trip to her home state was to visit an old Pepsi bottling plant in Pueblo that would be transformed into a revolutionary new marijuana factory. She informed me she was born in Pueblo and knew of the Pepsi facility well.
According to my new travel companion and impromptu source, a lot of families in the area lost their livelihood when Pepsi closed the plant — it was a hard blow for people living in a relatively desolate part of the state.
The people of Pueblo aren’t many when compared to the cultural hub that Denver represents just a couple of hours north, but they work hard and live on their beautiful land. We could tell how seriously in-tune they were with their agricultural instincts when driving alongside the mountainous landscape on our way from Denver to Pueblo, as a truck was weighed down beside us by what looked like a future state fair champion pumpkin.
Over 50 families were affected by the 2009 closing of the Pepsi plant, but an innovative new repurposing of the building by an unlikely group of business partners hopes to do more than fill the void left in Pepsi’s wake by tripling the number of jobs the facility can provide on day one, with plans for many more jobs in the future.
Two years ago, Doyen Elements, a collection of marijuana industry veterans, master growers, and the investors that could successfully fund the group’s plan, purchased the facility and began to realize their vision. Throughout local and federal law enforcement investigation, having their business and personal accounts shut down by numerous banks, experiencing armed robberies, and countless other assaults on their law-abiding and taxpaying businesses, the group persevered to become one of the largest legal cannabis suppliers in the country. The brains behind Doyen Elements planned to not only add a second story to the existing factory but a three-story addition in the back parking lot made from an unusual material.
I asked Kyle Wendland, chief strategic officer of Doyen Elements, about the timeline for construction and how the innovative building materials would benefit the massive grow. Wendland explained, “Once Phase 1 is complete, we’ll be taking everything we’ve learned at our satellite grows and applying it to the new facility. Right now, we have everything spread out. I think I’ve put 140,000 miles on my truck in the last two years just from driving between our different sites. Everything we’ve done research-wise up until this point was in preparation for this new building. Phase 2 will be a three-story addition in the parking lot section on the north end of the building, and it will be constructed completely of foam. There won’t be any metal or wood, all foam. It’s totally mold, water, and pest resistant, making it one of the strongest building materials we could have chosen for the addition.”
As we walked around the parking lot that would soon become the innovative new addition, Doyen Elements CEO Geoff Thompson told me Doyen holds the worldwide exclusive rights for the Syntheto-Foam System as it applies to the cannabis industry. The first phase of construction, which will involve renovating the existing factory space and adding a second floor, will be completed by Q2 of 2018, with the all-foam construction of the north end addition being completed by the end of Q2 the following year.
With the Phase 2 addition, the Doyen Elements facility will become far and away the largest indoor cannabis cultivation site in the country. The finished factory will stand at 234,000 sq. ft. and produce over 70,000 pounds of flower annually, not to mention house a state-of-the-art extraction lab, infusion center, research and development space, and retail locations. If drivers passing by the compound weren’t already enticed to pull over for a visit, Doyen hopes a $2-million investment into the building’s highway-adjacent facade will help convert interstate traffic into industry traffic.
Local lawmakers in Pueblo have been supportive for the most part, as the company is a great source of revenue considering the taxes and various license fees they pay, not to mention the construction jobs created and additional tax revenue generated from those workers. Members of city council and the chamber of commerce were in attendance for the groundbreaking ceremony at the former Pepsi plant.
Because the former bottling facility already housed a massive tank filled with food-grade CO2, Doyen is able to recycle the gas for their extraction lab to make high-quality concentrates at an incredible scale. This tremendously efficient use of resources, as well as future plans to use solar and other forms of alternative energy could position the facility as a model for commercial grows.
Wendland said a traditional electric bill could run around $400,000 each month at the new factory, so finding more economic methods of powering the plant production was essential.
How did Doyen Elements raise the kind of resources required to pull off this exponential growth in size?
Thompson explained how the separation of cannabis-touching elements of the company from the portions that are approved by the SEC to provide ancillary services to cannabis businesses is essential in Doyen’s quest to take the company public.
In a community that values farming, the Doyen growers honor these high standards by growing all organic flower, making their own nutrients, and avoiding any chemical additives along the way.
Beyond the colossal Pueblo indoor grow facility, Doyen will continue to cultivate a tremendous about of CBD and industrial hemp crops at their numerous outdoors farms. One major part of their business plan is to take advantage of quickly-transforming hemp laws across the country by teaching farmers, namely those on Indian reservations hungry for economic and agricultural democracy, Doyen’s proprietary “Slow Hemp” growing process that routinely produces plants clocking in at 18 ft. tall, typically carrying roughly eight pounds of cannabis with over 20 percent CBD.
Once Doyen sets up the Slow Hemp cultivation sites with local farmers across the United States, they purchase a guaranteed amount of hemp from the farms.
I spoke with one of Doyen’s presidents, master grower Shane Davis, about the company’s outdoor crop and the benefits of hemp.
Davis laid out his unique approach to hemp cultivation, saying, “Slow Hemp is elevated organic standards of practices that ensure quality standards pertaining to safe preparation, cultivation, and end result products for the environment and consumer. This is real conscious capitalism with social and environmental dividends.”
On his preference for handling the outdoor sites, Davis explained, “Nobody can perfectly recreate nature. I believe outdoor grows are exponentially better as far as ‘whole plant extract photo cannabinoid compositions and overall yield are superior’ when grown in nature. Nature allows the plant to evolve with regards to drought and pest resistance, geographical and medium acclamations, and more. It’s a natural process that can’t be beat.”
When I asked how mass re-adoption of industrial hemp in our nation’s agricultural landscape could provide benefits, Davis said simply, “Hemp can heal the land that genetic modification has ruined.”
The land won’t be the only beneficiary of the revolutionary indoor and outdoor cultivation processes, as Pueblo-area customers already enjoy drastically lower prices than industry averages, often able to secure an ounce of quality flower for less than $75.
We visited Doyen’s current testing facility, extraction lab, and retail operations to see how they were preparing for the shift to the mega grow they would soon inhabit. Many growers and extraction artists were treating this time at the satellite facilities as an opportunity to hone their craft and experiment to find new best practices before they scale up dramatically.
Doyen Elements plans on developing hundreds of proprietary strains and other genetic cultivars at the new plant, so they have their work cut (or trimmed) out for them. But with plans to inject the Pueblo economy with 350 new jobs in the next two years at their cultivation facility alone, they should have plenty of help.