Warning the reporter accompanying him not to take any pictures, veteran horticulturalist Michael Castleman punches an electronic code and unlocks the door to Room 209, nicknamed the “Mother Room.”
Photography is indeed forbidden inside this living vault, which contains 20 phenotypes of cannabis plants thriving under the glare of 25 ceramic metal halide lamps for 18 hours a day. The plants, arranged in groups of four and narrowed down from an original 1,000 seeds, bear colorful names like Oro Blanco, Bubblegum Diesel, and Sunshine Daydream.
“This is the heartbeat of the whole facility,” Castleman told BioNews Services, publisher of this website. “We keep mothers 12 to 16 weeks before we replace them, and we take cuttings every day. If anything happens to these plants, we’re out of business.”
That business is Kind Therapeutics USA of Hagerstown, Maryland — which holds a license to produce cannabis products in Maryland under a management agreement with MariMed, a publicly traded company based in Massachusetts. The venture’s various offerings contain both cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.
The company occupies a newly renovated 180,000-square-foot facility and a 10,000-square-foot processing lab that for 130 years housed the Statton furniture factory. Located across the street from a livestock auction house, the sophisticated operation now ranks among the East Coast’s largest suppliers of cannabis for the U.S. medical marijuana industry.
“Hagerstown is very depressed — one of the most economically depressed areas in the state — so we’re bringing life and jobs to this area,” said Abigail Diehl, Kind Therapeutics’ director of business development and sales. “We’re already Maryland’s largest indoor cannabis grower.”
Kind’s product lines include Kalm Fusion powdered tincture and chewable tablets in either mango lime coconut or green tea lemonade. There’s also Nature’s Heritage extracts, concentrates, and vape pens, as well as six types of LucidMood vape pens advertised online under the slogan “Elevate your mood without clouding your mind.”
Medical use legal in 33 states and D.C.
With other entrepreneurs, Diehl is betting that the expanding U.S. legalization of cannabis for medicinal use will boost sales of the company’s products to treat everything from skin cancer to multiple sclerosis (MS).
At the moment, 33 states and the District of Columbia have declared medical marijuana legal; in D.C. and 10 states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — recreational use is also allowed, even though the federal government still considers marijuana in all its forms illegal.
Internationally, Canada is now the world’s largest legal marijuana market, having legalized its cultivation and sale in October 2018 through the Cannabis Act. Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize marijuana in 2013, with sales permitted in local pharmacies.
Last month, Israel became the third country — along with the Netherlands and Canada — to allow the export of medical cannabis. Tikun Olam, which has given MariMed exclusive rights to produce its cannabis products in Maryland, is among Israel’s top cannabis producers.
“The laws are constantly changing, so it’s difficult to get an accurate number. But this is going to be a $70 billion industry in coming years,” said Diehl, whose family has been a major Maryland fruit and vegetable distributor for nearly half a century. “When the state legalized cannabis in 2016, my friends said I needed to get into this business too, so I jumped in full throttle.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made history when, in June 2018, it approved a first marijuana-derived therapy to treat any disease. In this case, the cannabidiol was Epidiolex — developed by Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals — to be given to patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes, both severe forms of epilepsy.
“This FDA ruling speaks volumes,” Diehl said. “They’re saying, ‘guys, cannabis is not just for people who want to get high. This is a real medicine that can help everyone, including children.’”