OPINION: Reefer Madness to a Cannabis Convert

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By Madelyn York

A Brawley native, I grew up in the California public school system where D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Week was highly anticipated. These five days of assemblies, demonstrations, and arts and crafts were second only to the Scholastic Book Fair.

By Friday, every child was decked out in red and black D.A.R.E. swag and taking a pledge not to do drugs. The fears I was left with post-D.A.R.E. were that PCP would be thrown in my face by a masked drug dealer on my walk to school and that marijuana was a gateway drug that would claim my friends one by one.

When I took my vow not to do drugs, I meant it.

Even after my rebellious teenage years, I refused to do drugs in my adulthood. I was sure, certain, and confident — marijuana was dangerous. Today, I work for one of the largest cannabis companies in Southern California. My most valued project is the development of a program that provides reduced cost cannabis medication for child patients of families with a financial need. So how did I go from reefer madness to a cannabis convert?

OutCo, a California Corporation formed in late 2015, holds equity interests and manages multiple cannabis business ventures. Among other entities, the firm operates Outliers Collective, the first fully licensed cultivation, extraction, distribution, and dispensary operation in San Diego County. Last year, I became executive assistant to the CEO of OutCo, Lincoln Fish. Accepting a position at OutCo was one of the scariest career moves I have ever made. Was I really going to work for a federally illegal corporation?

If you are anything like I was, you have visions of marijuana being grown by stoners in dark, moldy basements. If you are anything like I was, you imagine concentrates and tinctures being “cooked” in a mobile home by a cancer patient in tighty-whities. And if you are anything like I was, you believe cannabis is only for lazy pot heads.

I’m here to tell you we were wrong.

My first day on the job was a blur, a crash course in cannabis. My only objective was to figure out what everyone was talking about. Terms like cannabinoids, terpenes, mothers, and clones were thrown around while everyone nodded their heads in understanding. I was lost. It wasn’t until our VP of Cultivation, Dr. Allison Justice, took me on a tour of our indoor grow facility that I realized how much I had to learn. She explained that bio security is extremely important for the health of the plants so booties and gloves must be worn before entering.

We suited up and I entered my first grow room where I set eyes upon a sea of green. The space was a far cry from a basement and looked more like something from a sci-fi movie. The light source used to grow the plants were energy efficient LEDs with a custom spectrum designed by Dr. Justice herself. No synthetic pesticides are applied so beneficial bugs are one of the ways pests are controlled. Every nutrient, pesticide, and drop of water had been meticulously calculated by Justice and her team of cultivators. I was in awe of the amount of detail and care it took to grow this enigmatic weed.

Continuing the tour, I was then led by Dr. Markus Roggen, our VP of Extraction and the head of our lab. No mobile home here — the lab looked like what you would expect; complete with test tubes and beakers, lab coats and hair nets, even a giant blood centrifuge. The magic that happens here (put in the simplest of terms) starts by grinding up dry plant material in an industrial mill. This material is then placed in an extraction machine that uses CO2 under very high pressure as a solvent to separate and collect cannabinoids and terpenes that are then formulated into medicine for patients.

Medicine — I can’t emphasize that word enough because since working at OutCo, my view of the cannabis user has completely changed from “stoner” to patient. I have since witnessed firsthand the medicinal impact cannabis has on people’s lives… including my own and the lives of my loved ones. That is what this is all about.

I wouldn’t be able to share my cannabis experience without mentioning my boss and mentor. Lincoln Fish has a resume worth writing about. He encompasses the true spirit of an entrepreneur and has a track record of success, but that’s not what makes him special. You know it when you meet him. You shake his hand and you know, you’ve just met someone memorable. Linc is selfless, fair, energizing, and true. Because of him, every day I wake up excited to go to my job.

In the world of cannabis, he is a rarity. I get to work alongside some of the smartest, most compassionate and hardworking people, and together we get to make an impact on society and the lives of our fellow community members. The world of cannabis is changing. Basements are being replaced by highly sophisticated grow facilities. Laboratories are leading the way for safer, more sophisticated medicine. I know the stigma of marijuana still lingers, but I hope that by sharing a piece of my experience, questions are raised and an honest conversation can begin.

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