Take a look inside one of Utah’s first legal marijuana farms

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cannabis plants are grown in the nursery clone room using a deep water culture system at Tryke, a company in Tooele County on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, one of eight cultivators approved by the state to bring product to the public as part of Utah's medical cannabis program.

Tooele • In an 80-degree room, hundreds of marijuana plants bask under an amber light, synthesizing chemical compounds that will soon serve as medicine for Utah patients.

This flowering room is tucked inside a secure warehouse, which has other spaces devoted to the cloning, raising, drying and curing of some of the state’s first legal marijuana. Only seven months ago, these were completely empty spaces — just cement floors and metal beams.

At that point, Utah’s medical cannabis program was similarly skeletal. There were no plants, no growing spaces, no pharmacy owners. Just words in state law.

“It’s been a pioneering effort,” Randy Gleave, senior vice president of operations for Tryke Companies Utah said Thursday during a ribbon-cutting at the warehouse in Tooele.

But despite the compressed timeline, plants are already on drying racks in Tryke’s warehouse, and company representatives said they’ll have raw flower ready by March 1, the target date for debuting Utah’s full-fledged medical cannabis program.

Utah officials have selected eight cultivators to grow medical cannabis for the entire state, and all of them have started raising plants, said Andrew Rigby, the state’s hemp and medical cannabis program director for the state’s Agriculture Department. Not all of them are as far along as Tryke, he said, adding that the company benefited from the receptiveness of Tooele’s local leaders. Other communities were less welcoming to the state’s fledgling cannabis industry, he said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mature cannabis plants are dried at Tryke, a new cannabis farm in Tooele, on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. The company, one of eight cultivators approved by the state, is expected to have product available for patients by March as part of Utah's medical cannabis program.

But Tooele Mayor Debbie Winn said she had no reservations about bringing the new business into her community.

“We will take these high-quality jobs any day,” she said.

Rigby said Utah’s medical cannabis program has taken shape rapidly compared to other states. Lawmakers in late 2018 passed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act as a replacement for the marijuana initiative approved by voters that November.

Since then, state officials have fine-tuned the law, worked to craft regulations for the program, identified eight growers and selected operators for 14 medical cannabis pharmacies.

Although the first pharmacies are expected to open in March, it will take time for the program to accelerate, Rigby said, predicting that between 100 and 500 cannabis patients will sign up during the first month. So he’s confident the limited supply of cannabis that’s being grown in the state today will be adequate to meet the early demand.

Tryke, which will have 17 employees in Tooele by the month’s end, has ample space in its warehouse to expand along with the market, representatives said Thursday.

The company started in Arizona in 2014 and also has a presence in Nevada, Gleave said. When Tryke decided to move into Utah, Gleave — who attended Brigham Young University and whose parents grew up on Utah farms — said he knew he wanted to head up the operation.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Randy Gleave, center, General Manager at Tryke, a new cannabis cultivator in Tooele County, speaks during the grand opening on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. Joined by Tooele City Mayor Debbie Winn and Adrew Rigby with the Department of Agriculture and Food, in background, the farm is one of eight cultivators approved by the state, as they work to produce product available for patients by March as part of Utah's medical cannabis program.

A number of Tryke employees have had to live in hotels and out of their suitcases to open on schedule, but Gleave said he’s proud of helping give Utahns a “healthier alternative” to opioids and medications with negative side effects.

“The biggest obligation I feel today is to the people of Utah that voted this in,” he said in a speech ahead of the ribbon cutting.

The other seven companies that have cultivation licenses in Utah are:

  • Dragonfly Greenhouse

  • Harvest of Utah

  • Oakbridge Greenhouses

  • Standard Wellness Utah

  • True North of Utah

  • Wholesome Ag

  • Zion Cultivars