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Medical Cannabis Company Works to Stay Ahead of Curve

By The Maui News – Written by Kehaulani Cerizo

New products come amid pandemic, uptick in medical cannabis registrations statewide

Maui Grown Therapies Director of Product Development Christopher Cole works in the facility’s lab on the afternoon of July 10. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
KULA — Maui Grown Therapies believes they have just the thing for managing the anxiety that comes with a worldwide pandemic — lavender and some CBD.

The company behind the state’s first licensed dispensary is responding to COVID-19 with a forthcoming anti-anxiety product called Lavendiol, as well as a new production center laboratory housing $500,000 in technology that they say helps save costs for patients.

With the statewide increase in medical cannabis registrations amid the pandemic, Maui Grown Therapies’ new lab and products are ways the state-of-the-art company is staying ahead of the curve.

“We reap the savings from implementing a robotic instrument like this and tripling the efficiency of the process to then adjust our prices accordingly so the patient is able to access a more affordable product,” Christopher Cole, Maui Grown director of product development, said during a tour last week of the new lab.

“It’s really just the sophistication of what we can do in here,” he added. “Our cultivation operations are pretty advanced. I think in many respects this sets us apart from what other cannabis operators do.”

A cutting from a Friendly Isle strain of marijuana named “Molokai Frost” is sterilized in a jar next to other jars of cuttings in the Maui Grown Therapies lab July 10. After sterilization, the plant material was to be used to make micro clones. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Maui Grown Therapies leaders explained the technology behind their production center lab, a 1,200-square-foot space at the company’s Kula production site.

The new lab boasts a customized extraction machine, robotic filling technology and tissue culture cloning. Some procedures, such as the cloning that creates 100 percent clean plants, are hard to find in the cannabis industry.

“I don’t think anybody else in Hawaii is doing it,” Cole said. “It’s being done a little bit on the Mainland and is very common with other types of plants, but it hasn’t made the transition into the cannabis industry.”

Maui Grown facilities have thorough protocols — videos are regularly sifted by the state Department of Health in the highly-regulated industry. Half of the lab room is sterile. Biosecurity protocols include an ozonated and HEPA-filtered atmosphere, along with a positive-pressure biosecurity room with disinfectant footbaths.

An extraction technology instrument that costs $300,000 uses carbon dioxide extraction with liquid and gaseous carbon dioxide to separate individual cannabis compounds. Extracts end up extremely pure, staff said.

Processing Manager Kahala Kapuni upends a tray of mechanically-filled extra strength capsules containing a mixture of THC and CBD into a bin last week. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Cole said most extractors are “kind of blind instruments,” whereas their technology allows manipulation across 12 parameters to produce variations in composition and consistency.

“You can actually tease apart individual compounds and extract them at their very specific solubility’s without degrading them at all,” he said. “And then further downstream, you can recombine them if that’s what you want to do.”

Maui Grown has been using the new extraction tool on CBD and organic French lavender, later recombining the two in a pill form to create its new anti-anxiety pill, Lavendiol. Lavender is already known to combat anxiety, staff said; once CBD is added, the effect is enhanced. The pill should be on the dispensary lineup in the next 30 to 60 days.

“It really is the first product that we have developed that is in the COVID era,” Cole said. “And it has has a COVID focus to it, although it will be accessible and helpful to other people as well.”

A new robot arm automates filling of capsules, cartridges and other products. In the past, filling capsules by hand would net 300 per hour. Now, the lab is producing about 900 per hour. The faster processing time cuts production cost, which means lower prices for patients, according to Teri Freitas Gorman, Maui Grown spokeswoman.

Gorman said capsule prices have dropped by 50 percent since the filling machine was deployed.

Meanwhile, at a table with beakers and tubes, Maui Grown’s new tissue culture cloning area is illuminated with lights. While common in multiplying other plants, tissue culture cloning is relatively new in commercial cannabis operations, staff said. It’s faster than conventional cloning and done in a sterile environment with no pathogens to produce 100 percent clean plants.

Cole said it’s the best way to stabilize and store a genetic library. Maui Grown has 65 different strains in plant form and more than 200 in seed form. Breeding proprietary strains with specific cannabinoid profiles yield specific therapeutic effects.

Maui Grown has acquired rare plants that have uncommon genetic makeups, origins and properties.

For example, the company secured from its origin in South Africa seeds they call Durban No. 5. The plant’s growth pattern and appearance are different than most.

“If you look at that on a map of the cannabis genome, you’ll see that it falls way outside of the norm and it doesn’t have any obvious near ancestors because it was never crossed with commercial cultivars to make a commercial hybrid-type plant,” Cole said.

The rare plants have distinct pharmaceutical properties, and Maui Grown continues to explore those possibilities for future products.

Common dispensary items include Maui Grown flowers and live resin oils. The dispensary has seen a growth in capsules. Also, tinctures and soft lozenges are popular, Gorman said.

Gorman said patients appreciate the precision of Maui Grown, especially because dose regulation is vital. Many are dealing with chronic illnesses, such as pain, and use medical cannabis as a replacement or supplement to prescribed pharmaceuticals.

“With education, people learn that cannabis is about dosing. I mean yes, it has to do with formulations, the cannabinoids, the combination of what they call ‘the entourage effect,’ “ Gorman said. “But really it comes down to learning how to dose your products. At a low dose, THC can alleviate anxiety. At a high dose, it can actually make people feel very anxious. So you want to make sure you know what you’re doing when you’re using cannabis medically.”

During the pandemic, Gorman said sales have been consistent with pre-COVID-19 sales once the government deemed medical cannabis as an essential service.

Statewide, the industry is seeing an uptick in new 329 Card certifications under the state’s medical cannabis registry program, she added.

In August 2017, Maui Grown opened the state’s first licensed dispensary in Kahului, along with a 7-acre Upcountry production site where its cannabis is cultivated and manufactured. The privately held company is backed by doctors on a science and medical advisory board.

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