On a stretch of farm road in Northern New Jersey, in the midst of classic-looking orchards and livestock farms situated on gentle hills, one farm stands out with massive, transparent greenhouse walls that suggest an agricultural laboratory is bustling inside. This is the home of Edible Garden, a hydroponic growing facility that produces herbs, flowers, and houseplants for customers all over the east coast. But it won’t just house supermarket fare for long. Soon half of this hydroponic operation will be dedicated to growing weed.
Within the translucent walls are vast indoor grid-like fields individually dedicated to basil, cilantro, lettuce and other produce. Each field is elevated a few feet off the ground on a platform and consists of small, perfectly-uniform plants potted in square plastic containers. It’s 45 degrees outside, but in here it’s always a balmy 80 degrees, pulsing through controlled humidity that carries the mixed aromas of various herbs.
Steve Vander Vrede, who operates this facility with his brothers, describes each component of the operation in great detail, from the precise temperature and humidity for each section, to the carefully administered nutrient irrigation regimen for each type of plant. “In here, we’re not at the mercy of a bad season because we control all the parameters,” he says. “Whenever we do switch to any other type of plant, it will have the same advantage of a controlled environment.” He lifts up one of the picture-perfect basil plant. The exactitude shows in the product. It’s not hard to imagine that such an operation would yield some seriously killer weed plants.
“We are setting up sustainable agricultural infrastructure that can turn to cannabis cultivation at the drop of a dime,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, Edible Garden’s parent company. Terra Tech is a hydroponic farming specialist with similar facilities in New Jersey, Florida, and Indiana, with plans to expand to Nevada, New York, and elsewhere. Alongside his position at the head of Terra Tech, Peterson also operates a separate, private dispensary in Oakland. With the advent of state-level legalization, he saw an opportunity to enter a brand new market with an unbeatable product.
In weed’s newly legal terrain, entering the market as a producer is a game with unclear rules. Different MMJ states have different stipulations for supplier eligibility and despite their readiness, Terra Tech is forced to play the waiting game. Prior to plans for New Jersey, Terra Tech announced earlier this year that they are a candidate to become a licensed supplier of hydroponic cannabis in Nevada and recently formed the subsidiary MediPharm for that effort. A hydroponic farm in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, would serve demand not only for medical cannabis, but also for food produce required by the city’s massive tourism industry. As Nevada implements revisions to its medical cannabis laws this year, Terra Tech has become a viable candidate to serve the market. Though the state has yet to issue licenses, its much further along in its development of sensible MMJ regulations than New Jersey, where Edible Garden plans to thrive.
New Jersey has been embarrassingly slow in its adoption of sensible medical marijuana laws. Despite widespread public support for MMJ, the state has legalized cannabis only for extremely limited medical use and has very little potential to do any more, thanks to Governor Chris Christie’s fierce opposition to marijuana. Administrative runarounds attached to patient and physician registration have resulted in only three dispensaries being operational instead of the six the state is supposed to have according to law.
On top of this, Christie is a record-breaking employer of the veto, and lets progressive bills die in staggering numbers, many of which would mitigate the inhumanity of New Jersey’s marijuana laws. His acquiescence comes only in the direst need, such as allowing cannabis treatments for children with epilepsy, which he initially vetoed before being confronted by parents of sick children. The allowance excludes adults who may require the same treatment. Recently, the mother of a child with sever epilepsy asked Christie what would become of her son after he turned 18, to which he responded, “I’m not gonna make marijuana legal in this state for recreational use. I’m not gonna make it decriminalized,” adding, “If people want legalized marijuana in the state, elect a new governor.”
Within the bluster of a well-known personal agenda, this may be one of the few true and coherent statements Christie has made in recent months, and it’s exactly the opportunity for which Terra Tech is waiting. As it stands, Christie will veto any pro-cannabis legislation, but as Terra Tech’s Northeast Director Evan Nison puts it, “There are a lot of things that could force him to leave.” Before the end of his gubernatorial term in 2017, Christie may well resign to begin his long-anticipated presidential campaign. Even before that, he could be impeached for his involvement in the Bridgegate scandal. That leaves the door open for a governor who will adhere to public opinion for the sake of representing them, as outlined in the job description. That means that all the stifled proliferation of the state’s medical marijuana industry will suddenly burst forward, creating the market that Terra Tech will serve.
In any state-level competition for licenses, Terra Tech is likely to be on top because of its experience with hydroponic farming, but it’s hard to guarantee that placement before the laws come into form. If Edible Garden doesn’t receive a dispensary license under the current regime, their infrastructure allows them to potentially supply an existing licensee’s dispensary, and their experience allows them to provide consultation at very least. It’s looking like they won’t need to employ that contingency, however, because the environment for marijuana in New Jersey will very soon shift away from the burden of its governor’s agenda. Before long, the controlled humidity of Edible Garden will carry the scent of high-grade cannabis throughout the facility.