Asked about COVID-19 and cannabis, Dow said, “Handling a social ban and social distancing orders was a new experience for everyone in any business or industry.”
What do you do when everything you’ve built, everything you’ve worked for, has been put on hold because of an international pandemic?
You stay active on social media, involved in your local community, and plan for the future. That’s what Somerset, Massachusetts-based Solar Therapeutics, the first recreational dispensary in the United States to generate its own power (on site and off the grid), is doing following its first harvest.
Solar Thera is environmentally friendly, but that edge isn’t enough to get the dispensary’s team through COVID-19. All challenges considered, I threw some difficult questions at its CEO Edward Dow. Here’s how it went down.
Q: With your recreational business deemed nonessential, what roadblocks are ahead for Solar Therapeutics?
A: As much as individuals and businesses try to prepare for best and worst case scenarios, this pandemic has created uncharted waters that we’re still trying to navigate. Once the [stay-at-home] order is lifted, one of the challenges that we know lies ahead will be staff reintegration at our retail dispensary. We have contingency plans in place for our operations, but this will be touch-and-go to see exactly what parameters we must abide by.
Has Solar had to lay off workers? Are you eligible for any grants or loans to help you right now during the pandemic?
Since the non-essential designation, we have had to furlough a sizable amount of our dispensary staff—over 40 employees. However, we have been fortunate enough to continue our cultivation operations. Just weeks ago we harvested our first crop, which was an amazing experience and true sight to behold. Unfortunately, because cannabis is still a scheduled drug and not federally legal, Solar Therapeutics [like other cannabis operations in the US] is not eligible for any type of government grant or federal assistance.
Governor Charlie Baker has extended the social ban to May 18. What is your opinion on the social ban itself, as well as social distancing and mandatory face masks?
Handling a social ban and social distancing orders was a new experience for everyone in any business or industry. Nevertheless, Solar Therapeutics has always put an importance on practicing cleanliness around our dispensary and cultivation facility, which made the order a rather easy adjustment. Once things return to a more normal state, I believe this pandemic will have helped instill and teach more common-sense practices around the workplace.
You’re the first dispensary in the United States to generate your own power, on site and off the grid.
We’re proud to be leading the charge on utilizing sustainable approaches to cultivating indoor cannabis. In an industry that ranks so high in energy consumption, it’s imperative to start changing the way we’re doing things. We’re also proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far and especially [of] having the state’s first fully-sustainable harvest in April. It’s an inspiring feat.
What do you think other dispensaries could learn right now from Solar Therapeutics growing methods?
The best advice I could lend on implementing sustainable tactics to cannabis cultivation is to first go for the easy grabs or “low-hanging fruit.” Switching out CMH or HPS lights with LED lighting is a great way to make a substantial impact on electric and HVAC costs. The other easy grab would be to implement a water reclamation plan. The amount of water used to grow cannabis plants on a commercial scale is immense. If you can start to reclaim some of that water and re-integrate into your growing ops, you’re winning. These two practices alone can make a huge difference and aren’t as cost-burdensome as some of the other big implementations that are required to be fully-sustainable.
Do you also hold a manufacturing license for concentrates and edibles? Or is that something you plan to do in the future?
Solar Thera has its manufacturing license, which covers trimming, extraction lab, and full kitchen. We’re really excited for the opportunity to get into that side of the industry this year where we’ll be launching various MIP [marijuana-infused product] brands that will be available for retail and wholesale purchasing.
These are difficult times right now, but creative people are finding ways to succeed. Do you have any marketing plans you’re strategizing for after the lift on non-essential businesses?
It’s definitely been a difficult stretch for us all, not just those in the cannabis industry. However, we believe that in unprecedented times individuals and businesses can find opportunities when faced with obstacles. We’ve got some really exciting things to unveil to our customers and partners once we’re ready to re-open our doors. Stay tuned.