EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Inside the warehouse of Compassionate Care Foundation near Delilah Road, a 20-foot white shipping container sat to the left of a large, square room made of tarp-like material taking up most of the cavernous space.
While orange light peeked out from the seams of the main grow room, bright white lights illuminated the inside of the smaller container, providing artificial sunlight to 580 cannabis plants that formed two leafy green walls in the super compact vertical cultivation space.
The marijuana growing scene is ripe with opportunities as more states like New Jersey expand their medical programs or consider legalization altogether. To keep up with patient demand, an alternative treatment center searched for accelerated growing techniques to bring to South Jersey.
“You can’t tell a patient that they may have to wait months for what they need,” said Cady Riley, administrative manager at Compassionate Care. “And, yes, there have been times when we haven’t had something in stock and we have to wait for more to grow.”
The alternative treatment center recently partnered with GLTCannabis, the vertical cannabis farming arm of Green Living Technologies Intl., which is based in Rochester, New York, and specializes in green roofs, green walls and vertical farming.
Green Living president George Irwin, who grew up in North Jersey, had a background in vertical farming and was originally “anti-cannabis.”
His personal philosophy changed when his son was diagnosed as a senior in high school with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which he survived.
“When he became sick, it was very difficult as a dad. It forced me to find alternative means to help this kid, which meant going to Denver and driving back with (cannabis) oil,” he said. “I never planned on being in this business, but I felt obligated to find ways to help improve this industry.”
GLTCannabis’ portable vertical cultivation system was designed to help existing dispensaries rapidly grow medical marijuana products to meet a surge in patients.
The number of patients in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program has doubled since January, rising from 17,000 to 34,000, according to the state Department of Health.
Officials said earlier this year that they were aware of concerns about subsequent product supply and were looking for ways to get more patients and doctors involved with the program, while avoiding any significant shortages of medical marijuana.
Irwin said the portable containers can also help any newly licensed treatment centers get their cultivation off the ground quickly, as container crops finish in about 12 to 16 weeks depending on the strain.
New Jersey will expand its licensed alternative treatment centers from six to 12 and will award six new businesses or organizations with medical marijuana cultivation and dispensing licenses as soon as Nov. 1.
“We’re trying to fill a need to get product to market with predictability and quality so that they can accurately dose,” he said.
At the Compassionate Care Foundation, the container doors open to a small area sectioned off from the plants that contains the water filtration, temperature and other controls. Inside the grow room, a series of lights hanging in the middle of the container shine intensely on the cannabis plants, which grow out from the wall and then up.
The plants are smaller than what is grown in a typical grow room, but Irwin calculated that at one ounce per plant per 12- to 16-week cycle, the crop yields about 36 pounds of medical marijuana. The process can then be repeated about two or three times more in a year.
The vertical cultivation system relies on electricity to power the HVAC, LED lighting and control system. Water is also hooked up to the container’s water filtration system.
While Compassionate Care maintains the treatment center license, Green Living provides the center with a facility manager to oversee the unit and work with other employees to oversee the cultivation. Each container plant is registered with the Health Department.
Irwin’s company manages portable vertical cultivation systems at several medical marijuana centers across the United States. While he isn’t opposed to getting involved in the recreational growing business, his passion lies in medicine.
“When people come in pain, all you want to do is help them,” he said.