What do a defunct nuclear weapons plant and a high-CBD strain of cannabis have in common? It's all in the name.
High Level Health, a Denver-based marijuana dispensary chain, has worked with the Rocky Flats Downwinders to create a weed strain called Rocky Flats that might help bring awareness of the potential health hazards of the old plant, much of which has been turned into a wildlife refuge.
According to Tiffany Hansen, director of Rocky Flats Downwinders and part of the cultivation staff at High Level Health, the two started working together two years ago to create the strain.
“We thought it’d be a great way to get a certain population to learn more about Rocky Flats,” says Hansen. “One of the main missions of Downwinders is raising awareness of Rocky Flats and knowing that we have a toxic, nuclear neighbor.”
The Rocky Flats plant, which produced triggers for nuclear weapons for almost forty years, is sixteen miles upwind from Denver, close to Arvada and Broomfield. Between 1952 and 1989, workers at the plant used plutonium to build the triggers, which were then shipped to Texas to be incorporated into weapons. In 1989, the FBI raided the plant after the agency was tipped off about potential environmental crimes; Rocky Flats was closed that year and placed on the Superfund list. In 1992, cleanup of the site began.
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Once remediation was complete, plans proceeded to create the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which opened in September 2018. But activists and scientists warn that Rocky Flats may not be truly cleaned up. And those who live near the former plant, including Hansen, say they’re still feeling the effects of living nearby.
“I’ve reached out to an ex-boyfriend who felt certain his thyroid cancer was connected to Rocky Flats,” she says. “And then there are others I’ve connected with who said they’re experiencing similar health issues and are sure it comes from living near Rocky Flats.”
After a series of her own health issues in 2014, Hansen googled her symptoms and found that nuclear waste could be the culprit. More research inspired her to create the Downwinders group in 2017, and her other job as a grower eventually led to the collaboration with High Level Health.
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For High Level, the pairing aligned with its goal of creating strains with a medical focus. “Since we come from a medical-patient background, we focus on what we can do to help patients,” says High Level owner Jim Rice. “We’ve always had a patient-centric focus, and creating the Rocky Flats strain shows that.”
Before working with Hansen, Rice had heard about the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in passing, but had never learned details about the plant's history. Now, he's all in to expand awareness of the facility. “You don’t really hear about the issues until it hits close to home,” he says. “The silver lining to selling it is raising awareness on what Rocky Flats is, and hopefully spread the word about how it still affects people today.”
While CBD strains are not in high demand because so many other CBD products have hit the market, High Level still chooses to grow them for patients who need it, Rice says. And for those living near Rocky Flats, the strain seems to be particularly beneficial. “The strain has all the cannabinoids in it, and it’s known that CBD has a lot of health effects,” explains Hansen. “The goal was to create a strain that focuses on alleviating those symptoms people can have from living near Rocky Flats.”
High Level doesn’t plan to stop creating the Rocky Flats strain. Rice says he's thinking about creating more products focused on the history of the former nuclear weapons plant. “Our feedback on the strain has been enormously positive,” he says. “We’ve got a few things in the works right now, but we’re just trying to figure out what would be most beneficial to our customers.”