Cannabis producer strives to innovate industry in Portland and beyond
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) A local cannabis producer is striving to innovate in the industry – both technically and in terms of fairness – in Portland and beyond.
Jesce Horton is the CEO of LOW cannabis company and he uses his engineering background to help innovate the process.
This includes creating a unique ergonomic finish piece and the efficient use of water and energy.
The term “strong” in cannabis cultivation refers to high quality weed. Like anything noisy, cannabis of this nature can be detected from afar, solely by its scent rather than sound waves. This is certainly the case for LOWD, whose pine grasses could be detected floating outside their Northeast Portland facility, practically through the walls, when KOIN 6 News came by. a visit on Wednesday.
In addition to growing weed, Horton also co-founded a non-profit organization to help people of color succeed in the industry.
NuLeaf Project strives to provide grants and low interest rate loans and technical support to entrepreneurs and cannabis industry workers from communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
“When I walked into the industry and saw the opportunity before me, I thought I had to do certain things. It was easy to do good in the industry, right, there are so many good things to do that it wasn’t like I had to put in all that effort to do a lot of good, ”he said. Horton said.
The NuLeaf Project, which was also co-founded with his wife Jeanett Ward Horton, is partnering with the City of Portland using local cannabis tax revenues and private donors. Portland was the first municipality in the United States to invest its tax revenues from the legalized cannabis industry in communities most affected by cannabis criminalization, although Horton said governments in other parts of the country that have a legalized weed industry starting to adapt.
So far, 30 economic justice grants and loans have been facilitated by the program for funds totaling $ 500,000, according to the NuLeaf website. Recipients in Portland include Green Box, owned and operated by African Americans, the first licensed cannabis delivery company in Oregon; Green Hop, a northeast Portland retailer that gives back through an apprenticeship program for young African Americans; Natural Wonders, a Southeast Portland company that represents the first and only native-owned cannabis dispensary in Oregon and others.
NuLeaf recently extended its economic justice work to other communities in Colorado and Texas with similar programs.
“We just donated $ 200,000 through a partnership with Ben’s Best, the new cannabis brand from Ben Cohen, Ben from Ben and Jerry’s in Colorado, where he donates 100% of his company’s profits to businesses, black businesses and brunettes as well as the Last Prisoner Project, ”said Horton.
When it comes to LOWD’s origins, Horton has had a winding journey in the industry, having originally worked in engineering.
LOWD only launched under this brand in the summer of last year, after the company moved into a facility in northeast Portland in 2018. But the company itself has been around for about eight years. Horton said he switched to working in the cannabis industry after working as a sales engineer specializing in robotics and automation sales with German industrial manufacturing company Siemens.
“When I was in Munich, I probably spent most of my time in Amsterdam. And that’s when I really sort of… first realized my disdain for the day-to-day type of business because I was at such a high level of a business but really hated it. it. But I enjoyed being able to kind of live in that freedom with cannabis, ”said Horton.
His work at Siemens then moved from being located in Germany to Portland. From there he bought his first clone at a local dispensary.
“I had my first clone, put it in my backyard and never looked back. I went from my yard to the basement, from my basement to my garage. My whole house. looked like a greenhouse. And then I kind of moved out and continued from there. “
Black Cherry Cheesecake was the first variety Horton grew from his basement.
He then moved the operation to Corbett, Oregon. He devoted time and effort to converting a stable into an indoor grow facility and had greenhouses on 40 acres of land. The industry was moving from medical-only legalization to broader legalization at the time, Horton said.
What he didn’t know at the time was that the building was located in a Columbia River Gorge Commission National Scenic Area, despite being located in Multnomah County. They told him that he could not operate any medical or recreational cultivation operations on the site due to the zoning conflict.
“In fact, we were kicked out of there on 4/20, believe it or not, in 2017. We had no locations. We have lost almost everything. But we still had our genetics, ”Horton said. “We were lucky to find this facility, we brought all of our plants here. “
It was a tough six months trying to find work to pay rent and bills after the Corbett facility closed, let alone looking for a new facility. Horton had to muster all the resources he had personally, as well as ask his friends and family, in order to raise enough capital to restart the business.
“We got lucky towards the end of 2017, we moved in 2018, spent a few years building the facility from scratch, really. Start with four lights, eight lights and 16 lights and go sort of priming, ”said Horton.
Fast forward to today and Horton’s dedication has paid off. For example, his Platinum Garlic Cookie variety was the top-selling flower in the state of Oregon from February through May of this year, he said.
The emphasis on growing quality varieties is what brought early success to Horton, having won first place in the Best Hybrid Flower Medical category with the Dope Cup Oregon competition in 2016. The winning strain was Fire OG by Saints Cannabis, which was Horton’s company name at the time.
Horton’s technical skills also play a role in facility management to innovate and maximize process efficiency. For example, the company created a finishing room designed with ergonomics in mind to maximize worker comfort and productivity, which Horton considers a world first.
In addition, the entire 8,000 square foot facility is focused on reducing energy use, Horton said. For example, most dehumidifiers and air conditioners in the facility go to a location where the condensed water can then be cleaned and reused to hydrate the plants. Horton said 50% of the facility’s total water consumption now comes from the air using the condensate reuse method.
In addition, he replaced the metal ducts in the flower room with fabric ducts. With airflow holes distributed evenly throughout the fabric tube, this circulates air more efficiently than conventional ducts and thus avoids hot spots. Normally in flower shows it’s common to see a lot of electric fans redistributing the air to normalize the temperature in the room, Horton said, but not at LOWD.
Fabric ducts also have the advantage that they can be taken apart and cleaned in a washing machine between growth cycles, preventing the build-up of unwanted airborne material from being redistributed onto the plants.
Horton is also the co-founder of a national non-profit organization focused on equity in cannabis called the Minority Cannabis Business Association. Although he and his wife Jeanett have since stepped down from the leadership of MCBA, he said the organization continues to grow with the help of some prominent names in the industry.
Now, with the NuLeaf Project, the couple continue their mission to instill a higher purpose with their cannabis work and directly address the disproportionate impact the War on Drugs has on communities of color.
“Ever since I entered the industry, I wanted to have more goal behind what I was doing. And because my dad spent time in jail for cannabis, I spent… I was arrested several times, I had to deal with really tough repercussions because of it.
NuLeaf’s fairness work doesn’t stop at the city of Portland’s borders, either. They were an organization involved in a large task force of over 80 other people helping to develop a statewide bill related to cannabis fairness, HB 3112. The bill would establish an Equity Investment and Accountability Board and an Equity Investment and Accountability Office within the governor’s office to provide fair oversight of the cannabis industry statewide. Horton was disheartened to learn that the bill appeared to have run out of steam towards the end of the legislative session, with its last recorded activity being a referral to the House Ways and Means Committee in late May.
The name LOWD is a play on words, Horton said. This is both a reference to the quality weed slang term called “strong”, but it is also an acronym for “Love Our Weed Daily” or “Love Oregon Weed Daily”.
Ultimately, Horton said he believes his company’s legacy is not just product quality, but embracing a spirit of people in the cannabis industry supporting each other.
“We have good varieties and we are excellent and we have great marketing. But our success is really, I believe, and everyone here thinks it rests on us in some way to be a beacon for true cannabis cultivation from a diverse perspective and to represent the northwest of the Peaceful and cannabis cultivation to the max.