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The Legal Cannabis Transition from Indoor to Greenhouse Grows: A Look at Tantalus Labs

The Canadian company has an innovative approach in creating financially and logistically-efficient technologies for its environmentally-friendly marijuana grow operations.

As the legal marijuana movement progresses across North America, cannabis growers are finding themselves at a technological and logistical crossroads.

After decades as an outlaw industry, cannabis legalization is allowing cultivators to move out of the shadows, literally, and to take their grow operations outside.

Most legal cannabis is still grown indoors, as marijuana companies remain wary of their crop’s security issues and its lingering social stigma. But those indoor facilities are expensive; requiring high levels of electricity for lighting, air conditioning, ventilation, etc.

An independent scientific study published in 2011 estimated that overall indoor cannabis production in the U.S. consumed about one percent of the nation’s electricity use, or $6 billion per year.  And given the explosion of growth in the legal marijuana industry since 2014 observers believe that power consumption has increased dramatically.

Many large-scale growers in regions where cannabis is legal are therefore turning towards greenhouse models as they expand their cannabis operations. Some are taking the traditional approach to greenhouse production and customizing it exclusively for the cannabis industry.

One such company is Vancouver, BC-based Tantalus Labs. Shafin Diamond, a well-known Canadian investor and entrepreneur, has dubbed Tantalus as the “Tesla of cannabis.”

Last September the company finished construction on its one-of-a-kind cannabis grow facility. That facility, called SunLab, will begin production later this year and will use unique greenhouse technologies geared specifically for marijuana.

SunLab, according to the company, will reduce its electricity consumption by up to 90%, compared to a traditional indoor cannabis cultivation set-up – while providing the full-spectrum light needed for optimizing plant growth.

The facility will also take advantage of the region’s abundant rainfall via a unique rainfall capture, filtration, storage and recycling system.

The 115,000 square foot greenhouse, according to Tantalus, is part of a movement away from “the artificially lit and energy intensive indoor grow-ops that represent 90% of the cannabis production in North America today.”

Sunlab also complies with Canada’s stringent Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), while promoting state-of-the-art sustainability practices.

Dan Sutton, founder and managing director of Tantalus Labs, says complying with Canadian government regulations meant coping with some unique agricultural challenges; such as growing cannabis in a pesticide-free and mold-free environment.

The result, he tells Blunt Network, was to integrate those technological solutions “right into our infrastructure,” by coming up with innovations in airflow, water treatment, nutrient delivery and other elements essential to a cannabis grow facility. These novel approaches, he says, “allows us to deliver an unprecedented level of purity while also meeting this highly-rigorous standard for quality assurance.”

Four years of construction, with an initial investment cost of CA$10 million, means the square-foot price of SunLab is quite high. But Sutton says the investment has a great ROI.

“In Canada we are obligated, in this medical cannabis context, to own our entire supply chain,” he says. “We’re a fully vertically integrated business. We cultivate, we harvest, we process, we inventory and then we distribute direct to the customer through an e-commerce platform.”

And Tantalus is also working to perfect how SunLab’s staff works to top efficiency in their new facility.

“How do we manage our work flow, in a way that allows us to minimize our work force, in a way that allows maximizing efficiency?” says Sutton. “In short, it’s an obsession with process and organizational behavior.”

Part of that process is ensuring the company’s agricultural and horticulture experts are trained on software that monitors SunLab’s operational procedures.

Tantalus, says Sutton, has “come up with a set of not just operational procedures but software that monitors it in a highly granular way. We can watch in real time how much time (facility) operators spend working on tasks while avoiding any bottlenecks.”

The company will distribute its cannabis across Canada to any adult Canadian with a doctor’s prescription.

Sutton says the biggest challenge, outside of patient acquisition, is ensuring the company doesn’t expand too rapidly.

“More startups die from overeating than from starvation,” he notes. “We have to make sure that we don’t grow too fast and that we deliver consistently to our patients.”

The industry’s transition from indoor to greenhouse cultivation, Sutton says, has created a “magic intersection” of sustainability and social interest with economic self-interest.

“This is highly specialized, highly technical yet agricultural crop,” he adds. “The best operators ten years from now, I firmly believe, will look like the best agricultural organizations.”