We've all heard the stories of long lines and bulk buying at Colorado liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries during statewide stay-at-home orders, but there have been no reported shortages of weed and booze. Cleaning and medical supplies, on the other hand, are in serious demand, with hand sanitizer one of the quickest products to fly off store shelves.
To help fight the pandemic, three businesses in the marijuana and alcohol industries have teamed up with a packaging company to provide sanitizer for emergency medical service providers and health-care workers in Chaffee County, as well as supply local retailers with product they can sell for charity.
Marijuana cultivator Pure Greens, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, Elevation Beer Co. and Pursell Manufacturing have made about 5,000 bottles of hand sanitizer so far, according to Pure Greens CEO Sterling Stoudenmire, who got the idea from stories about breweries and distilleries that were doing the same.
"I saw on the news that a brewery was making hand sanitizer in Colorado, and I thought that was absolutely something we could do," Stoudenmire recalls. "We started out making batches for internal use. Then I realized that there wasn't sanitizer available anywhere in our community."
Pure Greens also does marijuana extraction, which can require solvents such as isopropyl alcohol during the production process. Realizing that his facility was flush with a major ingredient needed to make a form of hand sanitizer, Stoudenmire started calling other local businesses for sanitary equipment, grain alcohol, glycerin and packaging.
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He went to Elevation and Wood's High Mountain, co-owned by Salida Mayor P.T. Wood, for the hydrogen peroxide and potent grain alcohol required to make FDA-approved hand sanitizer. “We can’t do anything about the toilet paper shortage, but distillers are uniquely able to address the shortage of hand sanitizer," Wood notes.
Brewers and distillers can also perform one key activity that a marijuana business can't when making FDA-approved sanitizer: attain FDA registration, which no commercial marijuana facilities are able to get because of the plant's federal prohibition.
"They had the ability to go to the FDA and get registered for this, which we obviously can't do," Stoudenmire explains. "This was less about [Wood] being the mayor, and more so him owning an FDA-registered company and stepping up."
The next big challenge was finding glycerine, the gel-like substance that holds hand sanitizer together. The liquor and marijuana facilities didn't have any, but they quickly found someone who did. Actually, the glycerine provider found them: Pursell Manufacturing, a bottling and packaging company based in Poncha Springs for over twenty years, contacted Woods about purchasing grain alcohol to make hand sanitizer.
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Co-owner Alan Pursell quickly jumped on the project that was already in the works, providing glycerine and packing services, and the Chaffee County super squad had around 1,500 bottles of hand sanitizer made in just a week. Since then, Stoudenmire says, they've finished another 3,500.
First responders in the police, fire and public health departments, as well as a local senior-care facility, are receiving their bottles for free, but the hospital insisted on paying, Stoudenmire says. Essential businesses such as supermarkets and hardware stores have also received bottles that they sell for $2 each, with proceeds going to the Chaffee County Community Foundation.
While the businesses hope to continue making hand sanitizer during the pandemic, Stoudenmire admits that they're virtually out of isopropyl alcohol, and other ingredients are running thin, too.
"We still need to keep a little of this stuff to remain open as a business," he says. "Our biggest challenge is that some of the raw material ingredients are almost impossible to get right now, but we're trying."