AFRICANGLOBE – State by state, the nation is beginning to chip away at marijuana prohibition. Especially since Colorado and Washington legalized the herb for recreational purposes last year, whispers of legalization and decriminalization are spreading like wildfire. But cultivation of the plant is still federally illegal, and often as states legalize either medically or recreationally, they find themselves in short supply.
A former Wall Street banker named Derek Peterson is now CEO of a company that could eventually turn the legal medicinal and recreational marijuana shortage into a myth. The company is called Terra Tech Corp, and since its inception in 2010, Peterson has made it his goal to set up farming facilities in various states to grow legal leafy greens like basil and thyme, and gearing up to switch over to cannabis. As soon as each state legalizes, Terra Tech plans to switch to cannabis production, coming out ahead of the curve.
A sustainable, hydroponic farming company, Terra Tech became the first publicly traded company to apply for a license to grow cannabis. Everyone on staff is fully trained to cultivate weed so that as soon as states legalize they can easily shift their facilities over, staff and greenhouses intact. In an effort to stay environmentally sustainable, the company plans to implement far more outdoor greenhouses that rely on natural sunlight than indoor farming facilities that rely on elecricity. Terra Tech’s subsidiary, Edible Garden, has already started using Terra Tech’s LED lighting to cultivate produce while reducing its carbon footprint.
Based in both New Jersey and California, Terra Tech is working in tandem with Edible Garden and GrowOp Technology, which Peterson founded to provide equipment for medical marijuana growers. What started as a company that manufactured mobile growing facilities in Northern California has now expanded to facilities around the country, including Florida, New Jersey and Indiana.
“We have about 7 acres that we’re working with in New Jersey, we’ve got 10 acres in Florida, we’ve got 30 acres available to us in Indianapolis that we’re growing out of as well,” Peterson said. “We’re looking for facilities right now in California. We’re currently looking at Central California, it’s one of our focuses just because of the climate there.”
Peterson said expanding on the marijuana market was always part of the plan for Terra Tech, but he did not want to jump into it immediately in 2010. So instead, he started out developing and selling hydroponic equipment like filtration, nutrients and HID and LED light systems.
Peterson owns a dispensary in Oakland, Calif. called Blüm, and prides himself on making sure patients are getting high-quality pot from a reliable place. This alone was a major reason for the development of Terra Tech.
“Who do you want growing your cannabis?” Peterson said. He says knowing and trusting the source is essential.
When it comes to growing marijuana, even if your intentions are good, it is still a bit of a challenge warming people up to the idea, he explained. That was when the farming of other crops came into play.
“We didn’t want to do it right away, so we started to think of a way that we could position ourselves to cultivate cannabis from a nationwide standpoint,” Peterson said. “Well, how can we do that without doing it immediately? And how can we justify spending the money to build the infrastructure around the country?”
Terra Tech joined forces with the wholesale fruits and vegetables company East Coast Farms and eventually merged with Edible Garden. Peterson said this allowd them to expand in terms of growing other crops, and work toward cannabis cultivation in places where recreational marijuana is already on the path to legalization.
“It allowed us to build a footprint of these high-tech, hydroponic, fully automated greenhouses around the country,” Peterson said. “And positioning ourselves for down the line when we feel comfortable enough to cultivate cannabis. We’ve got the infrastructure already there.”
The latest project for Terra Tech is in Nevada. Now that the state recently altered its medical cannabis laws, dispensaries are now legal and under Bill 374, Nevada will now allow 66 dispensaries and an unspecified amount of facilities, labs and kitchens. Terra Tech is a candidate to build a large-scale pot growing facility in the state. After putting together a report and arguing their case, they have a few more months of waiting before any decisions are made.
“We recently announced that the public company is going to compete for medical cannabis cultivation and retail permits in Nevada, as well as look for other direct opportunities in and around the country.”
Peterson said one of the trickiest parts of establishing greenhouses is waiting for permits. Depending on state, county and city input, permitting can take weeks to months to go through. Peterson said that while Clark County, Nevada—where Las Vegas is located— is relatively cooperative thus far, people in other parts of Nevada are trying to keep marijuana-growing facilities out of their communities through moratoriums and zoning laws.
Peterson said that Clark County is their number-one priority in Nevada at the moment because it is home to 2 million residents and 40 to 44 million people come through Vegas every year. Although, even if they are allowed to build, they will not be able to put any facilities too close to the Las Vegas strip.
“We’re competing, we’re putting together our plan,” Peterson said. “We’re forming a corporation, we’re looking at real estate, we’re close to locking down some real estate and put together the whole business model and business plan around it.”
While Terra Tech prides itself on its push for environmental sustainability, the company will not be able to set up a greenhouse in Nevada right away even if it gets the permits it needs.
“[Nevada is not] allowing for greenhouses right now because they don’t like the fact that they’re clear and you can see through them, and they feel like there’s safety issues associated with that,” he said. “And it’s a little frustrating for us because it’s the most environmentally sustainable way to cultivate. But right now we have to grow indoors if we earn the permits, so that means utilizing supplemental lighting, high-intensity lighting, artificial lighting, air conditioning.”
Even though there are hangups with opening a pot-farming greenhouse in Nevada, the end goal for Terra Tech is eventually to end up with all of its facilities as sustainable greenhouses. Peterson explained that at the moment they are working on getting two retail permits and two cultivation permits from the state.
Terra Tech is also looking for existing opportunities in Denver, Colorado, and has its eye on New York. Peterson thinks it won’t be long before they start growing there as well.
Peterson is optimistic about the future of his company and the slow but steady legalization of marijuana across the country. Terra Tech is already expanding more rapidly than expected, growing from 300 retailers last year to about 600 this year. Cultivators and other team members are trained and ready to get to work.
“We have it already, it’s just planting a different seed,” Peterson said. “We could have cannabis growing anywhere in these facilities within 48 hours.”
By: Rula Al-Nasrawi