Securing Ohio's new cash crop
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - For decades, marijuana has been at the center of an illegal trade worth billions of dollars.
Now, that marijuana will be legally grown as medicine at a dozen licensed cultivation centers across Ohio, the question is how will the state make sure all that pot will not end up on our streets?
Local 12’s Duane Pohlman traveled to a medical marijuana dispensary in Chicago and a marijuana cultivation and processing center just north of New York City, which operate under rules that are similar to what you’ll soon be seeing in Ohio.
A GROW FACILITY WITH BREATHTAKING YIELDS
From a bench, the view overlooking 768 marijuana plants, producing an average of 150 buds a piece, is breathtaking.
“That’s what we’re shooting for,” says Pharmacann’s director of cultivation, quietly noting the yield as he looks over the fruits of his labor and expertise.
The greenhouse where 115,200 buds are almost ready for harvest is just one section in this massive marijuana cultivation facility an hour-and-a-half north of New York City in the Catskill town of Hamptonburgh, New York.
Chicago-based Pharmacann, which has a license to grow marijuana in a facility it will build in Buckeye Lake, owns the impressive operation. Tens of thousands of marijuana plants are scientifically moved from seed to supply under a greenhouse canopy of more than 30,000 square-feet.
FROM BUD TO LUCRATIVE OIL
In a nearby section, the buds are ripped away from the stems in a series of loud machines that appear to be devouring the plants. The buds are dropped in a bucket, snipped and stacked on baker’s racks to dry.
In yet another room that resembles a laboratory, a machine that is similar to one that decaffeinates coffee extracts the oil, which can contain high levels of THC, the psychoactive drug at the center of marijuana, or CBD, which is almost devoid of THC.
Nearby, five-liter jugs are filled with the day’s squeezed nectar: oil that contains about 70 percent THC.
When asked about the wholesale value of each jug of oil, Chris Diorio, director of research and development, didn’t hesitate.
“500K,” he repeated, as he pointed to each one that was full.
The oil is processed into a wide variety of medical marijuana products the company manufactures in yet another room.
In the center of the building, a massive safe with guards is where all of the products, valued in the tens of millions of dollars, are stored.
EYES ON YOU
With that kind of value, it’s understandable why security here is tight. A series of 308 high-definition cameras are mounted on the walls and ceiling and even on the outside of the building.
“There’s security cameras in every room,” Diorio noted, pointing to the cameras mounted in lab.
Some of the cameras are mounted in clusters of four, which provide a 360-degree view of the entire room.
In the security center, a bank of monitors with playback proved we were watched every step of the way.
“You’ve been watched the minute you walked in the building,” Diorio said.
FEELING THE WALLS
To match the camera’s eyes, the building has a series of detectors that can “feel” what’s happening.
Mounted on the interior of the metal walls, a series of seismic sensors can tell the difference between a touch and someone trying to cut through.
THE MARIJUANA CODE
Arguably the most important security feature is a simple barcode attached to every plant. From the minute it’s planted until it’s harvested, the marijuana is tracked to make sure it isn’t taken.
If somebody wanted to get to this marijuana, Jeremy Unruh, Pharmacann’s director of regulatory and public affairs, said, “They’d do something different than break in to this facility."
All of the overwhelming layers of security are required by law in New York, which reflects the security mandates that are the same as what will be required under Ohio’s new law.
The cultivation center that Pharmacann will construct in Ohio will have nearly identical security.
“Same footprint,” Unruh noted, referring to the Ohio plan.
SEED TO SALE
In a dispensary that Pharmacann operates in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois, security is just as tight. The medical marijuana products are kept in a back room through doors that open only to those with a badge.
Only the front room is open to the public, the rest of the building is secured under a layered-security plan.
Pharmacann’s District Manager of Illinois Dispensaries Dan Militello, a former manager in retail jewelry, says security here is much better than his former industry.
“Everything’s locked up. Cameras everywhere, and you’ve got to key in every room,” Militello noted.
The cameras are smart, capturing license plates outside and faces from the moment they appear.
The medicine contains the barcodes that can be traced to the plants, which is part of the anti-theft tracking system known in the industry as “seed to sale.”
Again, all the security at this dispensary is a glimpse into the Ohio’s medical marijuana future.
REQUIRED BY LAW
All this security may seem like overkill, but it’s required by law, including the new laws that will control the medical marijuana in Ohio.
“If the policy makers want us to have super-secure facilities like this, then we’re happy to give them that.” Unruh said.
While the security measures are in place, there’s very little pot in Ohio to protect. The program, which was supposed to be up and running on Sept. 8, has faced numerous delays.
Medical marijuana products won’t be available in Ohio until early 2019.