Growing pot: Lucrative opportunity, medical miracle
Licensed grower looks to build major regulated and controlled facility
While the state considers legalizing recreational marijuana and city and town leaders look to set guidelines on its development, local corporations are now preparing to cultivate, process, and sell both medical and recreational cannabis.
“The cannabis industry will be the most lucrative financial opportunity we will see in our lifetime,” said Barry Blair, president and founder of Rhode Island Cannabis Company, LLC.
Blair’s name may be a familiar one, as he opened “Barry’s Nightclub” in Warwick at the age of 19. He’s served in the hospitality industry for the past 35 years, operating the facility until it closed in 2005. With his wife, Tamara, and a family, Blair said he was looking for a transition in life about four years ago.
Tamara worked at Women and Infants Hospital as a physician’s assistant in oncology, and while there knew doctors were beginning to prescribe medical marijuana. While exploring other business opportunities, Blair considered entering into the medical marijuana field, as he believed his career experience would be a perfect fit in the industry.
“There’s no one more qualified to be at the helm of this controlled substance because I’ve been in that type of business my entire life, and I’ve always been proactive. I’ve always been proactive for the safety of my customers and the community and the family driving home at the same time my customers were going home as well,” said Blair. “I have been in the entertainment business serving alcohol to hundreds of thousands of adults and I can tell you first hand that this controlled substance is light years worse than cannabis and I believe the majority are fully aware of this.”
Starting from scratch with little knowledge of the plant, Blair immersed himself in learning all he could about marijuana. He consulted contacts who had been growing in California for decades, and eventually created a state of the art residential growing facility.
“Today, I can consider myself a pretty damn good grower,” he said.
Blair’s investment in his venture has cost around $250,000, with initial setup costing around $75,000. He’s used personal funds to finance the business, which is a pharmaceutically sterile processing operation.
“This investment I went overboard. I did everything I was supposed to do, so when people come and see and they want to invest in the future, they want to know that I know what I’m doing,” said Blair.
From gas powered generators for emergencies, computer controlled humidifiers, water filters and hydroponic systems, fire and carbon dioxide alarms and controls, lighting and security systems, and even music for the plants to grow to, Blair’s growing operation is methodical and impressive.
“It’s really a science, it’s like a diamond in the rough, there’s so many facets to be shined and explored and revealed,” he said.
Blair is currently a caregiver to five patients, the maximum allowed by state law. He grows 24 plants, also the maximum allowed. His plants each typically produce six to 10 ounces of marijuana, 13 if he’s really successful. Prices range from $150 to $225 an ounce, and he’ll grow particular strains of the plant with varying strengths of THC-the active compound in marijuana-based on patient need.
“The reason caregivers are so important to the patients is because many patients are low income, fixed income, or on SSI or SSDI, and they cannot afford compassion center prices, plain and simple,” said Blair. “We give them another avenue for safe and affordable medicine. Even when it goes recreational, that program needs to be protected.”
Blair is a state lobbyist for the cause, and has given several state senators and representatives tours of his operation. He has four people who work for him, who are rewarded with either medicine if they’re a patient or are paid. Through his work, he has become passionate in the cause of helping those in need of treatment.
“I got hooked with the amazing results I’m seeing in patients with cancer, pain, chronic illness; there’s some type of marijuana medication that’s helping them and getting them off the opiates and the things that ruin their bodies,” said Blair.
He’s applied for a cultivation license with the state, and has conceptual plans for a 25,000-square foot facility off of Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick. The commercial operation would house 500 plants, and a processing center to develop more advanced and larger product lines once it’s allowed. Blair says he’s been speaking with investors planning for legalization, and envisions the possibilities of even larger facilities up to 125,000 square feet.
Blair’s wife Tamara is one of the “finer edible chefs in Rhode Island.” The have a logo for T’s Incredible Edibles, creating products such as marijuana infused gummy bears, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, lollypops, and drinks.
“The packaging should be marked so you know, or so a child doesn’t think its gummy bears. It should be packaged properly just like we do with other medications,” he said. “Children should be educated and the medicine kept away from them.”
While his focus has been on the medicinal side, Blair said that he sees the economic value and job opportunities down the road should marijuana become legal for recreation in the state, a change he believes will take effect in the next few years. Under federal law, marijuana possession and cultivation remains illegal. He cites the successes in Colorado, with more than $1 billion in marijuana sales in 2016, as evidence that legalization can work within state and local laws, which generated about $150 million in taxes as of last October according to Fortune Magazine.
“I think the bottom line is this, people are going to smoke it whether you want them to or not. We’re better off regulating it, making sure the medicine or the recreational marijuana is safe, that it’s grown, cultivated and processed in OSHA and Federal standard compliant facilities, and it has to be regulated reasonably, too.”