Cleanliness is next to godliness at Kush Mountain Craft Cannabis and the fear of contamination is of paramount concern to the first licensed cannabis producer/processors in northern B.C.
For our tour of Kush Mountain, first we had to strip out of our street clothes and put on a smock and drawstring pants. Hair nets, beard nets and rubber gloves were also mandatory gear and shoes had to be rubbed with alcohol wipes before we could enter the grow rooms.
Kush Mountain CEO Tyson Wall and his business partner Chad Chisan purposely built their 22,000 square-foot production facility west of Prince George with cutting-edge equipment that supports their innovative cultivation techniques.
Their plants are fed hospital-grade air enriched with carbon dioxide in grow rooms free of pesticides, in conditions that prevent growth of microorganisms that would otherwise downgrade the product and require radiation or ultra-violet light treatments.
Wall and Chisan have put their combined decades of knowledge as growers into producing a potent strain that’s flying off the shelves at local dispensaries.
Known as Gas Plant, the strain of indica they’ve been producing over the past month has a THC potency of 28.5 per cent, at the higher end of the scale for psychoactive ingredients. Grown, cured, dried and packaged at the site, the first shipment of packed flower and pre-rolled joints left the Kush Mountain factory for direct delivery in mid-July and is now being sold at 16 B.C. dispensaries.
“The reason we picked it is we know it’s been around for so long and it performs so well,” said Wall. “There’s a lack of old school ‘gas,’ really potent cannabis in the local market right now. When people smoke it they say it brings them back to high school.”
Gas Plant is derived from the Pine Tar strain, sold on Vancouver Island by Lifecycle Botanics.
Cannabis sold in dispensaries ranges in price from $65 to $280 per ounce. Sold in smaller packets, the store-bought cost of an eighth (3.5 grams) varies from $12 to $50. Available locally at Shire Green Cannabis, Grasshopper and North Country Cannabis, Gas Plant sells as flower for $35.50 (3.5 grams) or in a pack of three pre-rolled joints each containing a half-gram for $15.99.
For their first growth stage, rows of about 340 pots of dirt are planted with four-to-six-inch cuttings from mature plants and they will spend 18-21 days in the “veg room” before they get moved to the next stage into the ulrabright “flower room.”
Stacked on stadium-style shelves on three levels to maximize light penetration produced by rows of 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium lights, the flowers that give cannabis its most intoxicating effects will continue to increase in size over the nine or 10 weeks they spend in the flower room. Light intensity, air flow, temperature and humidity are easily controlled by electronic controls, while watering, fertilizing and trimming of leaves to thin the plant and allow more light to reach the buds is all done by hand. Each plant produces about four ounces of flower.
Only about a quarter of the Kush Mountain building is currently being used but that will change as Wall introduces more cannabis strains and a new one is expected to go to market by December. Each will be grown in separate grow rooms to preserve their integrity and avoid the possibility of cross-contamination.
After harvesting, the plants are hung upside-down in the drying room for at least 20 days before they are trimmed – the most labour-intensive part of the growing process. The flower is cut into small pieces, weighed and put into small packages that are sealed with a government stamp that shows federal excise tax have been paid. Kush Mountain is taxed one dollar for every gram sold. A machine big enough to handle a large workload makes the pre-rolls that are put into boxes and sealed with a shot of nitrogen to help preserve it. Products that have been on the shelf longer than a year are destroyed.
Justine Wall, Tyson’s wife, is a former registered nurse now fully involved in the Kush Mountain operation, overseeing quality assurance and regulatory compliance. Cannabis was legalized in Canada for recreational use in 2018 and Kush Mountain was formed 3 ½ years ago when their license was granted.
Wall and Chisan originally estimated their startup costs at about $1.5 million but the pandemic happened right when they were starting the building and demand for materials sent prices skyrocketing and the project cost ballooned to more than $3 million. Aided by a $150,000 loan from Community Futures, they sold their real estate holdings and moved into rental houses to make up the shortfall. They figure Kush Mountain will be profitable within two years.