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Touring Terrapin Care Station

Jan 19, 2016 10:19AM ● By Christina Odette

Three years ago this month Colorado residents voted to legalize recreational cannabis.  The industry as a whole has come a long way since then. However, people who are unfamiliar with cannabis may have misconceptions about it. Some may think that an industrial cannabis garden would mirror a scene from the Showtime television series “Weeds.” Instead it is closer to your grandmother’s greenhouse, magnified to the size of a Home Depot. 

In Denver, Colorado, Terrapin Care Station stands out as the first growhouse to supply free public tours. The tours, offered at its Aurora location since May 2015, are part of an effort to educate the public on cannabis commercial production. 

The promotional video shown at the beginning of the tour shows Terrapin Care’s owner Christopher Wood explaining that family ethos is the company's objective. Terrapin Care Station has a total of four dispensaries in Colorado, but only the northern Aurora location shares the same site as the growhouse, where the tour takes place. 

“We like money, but we love pot,” said David Cheslin, a supervisor at Terrapin’s Aurora grow. “Education is half the battle for both.”

Upon walking through the front door into the waiting room for the tour, a security officer asks each person for their identification to verify their age as at least 21. This is required for entry into any Colorado retail dispensary.

“I was not expecting a third-party, armed security officer but some Rastafarian who was maybe friends with the owner,” said tour goer Judy Phelps, 69, of Montana.

Cheslin, the tour director for the overbooked group of eight, had a character closer to that of a grass-roots horticultural enthusiast than that of a former Grateful Dead follower or a drug lord. Following him within the boundary of a yellow-taped path  to the 13,000-square-foot warehouse, located behind the retail storefront.

In front of 20 rows of potted cannabis clones, separated by height, Cheslin described the flower cultivation process chronologically. There were three separate rooms in the warehouse total. Each room was dedicated to the needs of the plant according to its specific phase of maturity. Illuminating each room were different toned lights to mimic the seasonal rhythms. It takes a total of 18 weeks for a plant to complete this cycle. The guests also learned to identify sativa cannabis strains by their narrowly fanned shaped leaves and indica strains by their full-figured leaf span.  A blue tag, called a radio frequency identification technology or RFID tag, hung around the stalk of every plant.

The state of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) mandates that every growhouse fuse this labeling method in order to track the plant from seed to sale. For a grow house to stay operational, all MED regulations must be met. This was a constant point made on the tour, and efforts to stay compliant were very noticeable. 

Cheslin offered details on the types of light waves, the voltages used as well as the duration that the plants are exposed to light. Cheslin was also forthcoming on the present day, hot-button issue, like the use of pesticides. Terrapin grow uses only all natural pesticides in their production: neem, citrus and mineral oils. These ingredients can be found on the side of every package sold, another regulation that must be met for operation. 

Since Colorado residents voted to allow commercial production and sales of recreational cannabis, a major drive for Colorado businesses has been tourism.

A 2014 study by the Colorado’s revenue department concluded that 44 percent of cannabis sales in the Denver metropolitan area and up to 90 percent of sales in Colorado’s mountainous areas are from out-of-state visitors.

The dispensary and growhouse owners are grappling with being both shunned and sought after simultaneously. Most have combatted this duality in the public by simply ignoring those who oppose them.

“This company aims for education, otherwise we would have people coming from all over and not knowing anything,” said Sarah Bacon, supervisor at Terrapin’s northern Aurora store front.

Every grow house has their own technique. In an industry where most operational information is sealed off from all others, Cheslin said, “Nothing in Terrapin Care Station is proprietary.”  

Terrapin Care Station challenges the dialogue of the economically rich community that it is immersed in. The presentation of the information, illustrated an experience that you would enjoy on a wine tour or beer factory, only without the samples. There is no shack run by thugs, but rather a state-of-the-art large agricultural warehouse governed by strict compliance laws. 

“I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, but this tour was really informative,” said Candice Thurlow, 34, a Colorado native. “Hopefully other grows will follow suit.”