Inside a 36,000-square-foot former clothing manufacturing building downtown is a state-of-the-art cannabis cultivation facility that goes by the name of Triple 7. You may have seen Triple 7 weed in various dispensaries around L.A., perhaps including the brand's on-site dispensary, the Plug.
The home of $99-per-ounce premium bud, the Plug is fashioned after a department store, designed to be something like the Barneys of weed. With jewelry case displays and shelves highlighting premier brands such as Aces, Select and EdiPure, the Plug represents the "new age of cannabis," according to Cameron Wald, executive vice president of operations. "We don't want that old vibe," he says. "This is not about buying drugs, it's about supplying people with what they need for a wellness lifestyle."
Just a month old, the dispensary highlights brands that are doing things the proper way with regard to product testing and treating their employees right, Wald says, like paying them a livable wage and making sure they feel like they're a part of the movement.
Among those highlighted brands, of course, is the dispensary's own top-shelf Triple 7 brand bud, grown right next door. L.A. Weekly took a tour of the cultivation facility to learn just how the top cannabis in Los Angeles is produced.
Before entering the facility, you first need to wipe off your shoes on a mat at the door and then put on a space suit so as to not track in any germs from outside.
The temperature inside the entire facility is controlled to stay within the narrow band of 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, along with very particular settings for humidity and carbon dioxide. The plants are sure to get exactly what they need at every stage of the grow cycle in order to thrive.
For a cannabis plant, the grow cycle can be categorized into three stages: clone stage, vegetative stage and flowering stage.
At Triple 7, all the clones are produced in-house. "By doing it ourselves, it allows us to maintain the quality and consistency of the plants," Wald says. "When you get something from an external provider, you don't know if it's from the same phenotype." That is, while the clone genotype, or genetics, might be identical, the phenotype, or the expression of those genetics, may vary based on the plant's cultivation environment and methodology.
Triple 7 tested 45 strains when the facility first opened, since dialing back to focus on 19 strains.
From the nursery where they're seeded, the clones then reside in the vegetative room, which acts as an incubator. They stay there for 30 days before they're transferred to the flowering room, where they'll stay for 60 days. "The great thing about this room is that we're taking advantage of all the space in here," Wald explains.
With several long tables side by side, with only one aisle between them, growers can work between rows of plants, rolling the table tops throughout the facility in order to maximize canopy size. (If you've ever been through library "stacks," where the bookshelves get cranked together, it's like that, but for weed.)
However, one of the drawbacks of having rolling-top benches is that the plants are so close together that there could be a higher risk for powdery mildew among them, Wald says. To combat that risk, the room is filled with fans engineered specifically to create a "bathtub effect," so that there's no stale part of the room that isn't reached by constantly circulated fresh air.
Meanwhile, the hoses streaming from a 10,000-gallon tank of water — not just any water but L.A. city water that's gone through reverse osmosis to come out as 99.7 percent pure H2O — feed into the roots of the plant via drippers that deliver both the water and nutrients.
Following this vegetative stage, the plants head to the flowering room — a large, bright yellow–lit space (so bright you need sunglasses), filled with 1,100 plants, 160 lights and a handful of fans.
The plants reside here for nine weeks, while trimmers make their way about the aisles, standing on stepstools over the plants, de-leafing them and ensuring they're healthy. Removing the leaves from the bottom of the plant, especially where there's no chance of light, can preserve nutrients that instead are better utilized to nourish the buds at the top.
The Triple 7 facility is large enough to house five grow cycles of plants each year, including using four flowering rooms. "These tanks over here contain all the fertilizers," Wald says. "They're being pulled in through what's called a vertigration system — like a bartender, with a computer piece that's behind it so we can dial in the exact nutrient content and mixture we want." Once that's dialed in, the mixture is streamlined automatically to the plants. "So you don't have to do it manually, [which] is not standard," he adds.
"We've taken what we've learned from the art of cannabis and we've married it with plant science, botany and commercial agriculture. That enables us to grow the finest quality marijuana at a very low price and pass that on." That's why Triple 7 can offer an ounce for $99, Wald explains.
However, like any indoor cultivation facility, the energy expenditure is huge. To cut back, the lights in the facility are staggered such that at noon, the lights on one level go off and then the lights on a different level go on. In addition to helping not to stress the power grid, the system ensures that employees are working in the right places in the right order.
After the flowering stage, the plants are harvested and the buds go to hang in the drying room for 10 days. In here, the humidity is 50 percent and the temperature is 70 degrees.
After the bud gets dried, it gets cured in a room that also is set to very specific temperature and humidity. "The curing process makes sure the cannabis has that right smell," Wald says. "It's almost like ripening."
After this point, the bud will still need to be trimmed up and then packaged or stuffed into prerolls.
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Everything that goes to the store has to be delivered in its final form, Wald explains — child-resistant packaging, tamper-proof stickers and all.
Finally, after all that, the bud arrives in your hands for you to smoke a joint.