The whacky Kramer line was meant for laughter in the classic Seinfeld episode in which Jerry's neighbor plans to replace all of his furniture with flat, wooden levels. But when Marc Steimer talks about levels in his cannabis cultivation, it makes more sense.
An owner and the head cultivator at OG Medicinals, a dispensary and wholesale cannabis grow, Steimer arranges garden platforms vertically in order to maximize the space in his north Denver warehouse, stacking as many as four at a time (though he's currently retooling that per orders from city regulators). The technique provides a glimpse into the future of urban cannabis growing in confined spaces — even though Steimer got his start growing pot in the Michigan woods.
A former architect, Steimer took his love for the plant and construction savvy to Colorado in 2015, turning OG Medicinals first into a respected wholesale grow best known for OG-inspired strains, then a medical dispensary storefront, and now a recreational store, too, adding one level to the business at a time. To learn more about his cannabis handyman stories and OG tales, we took a stroll with Steimer through his garden.
Westword: What makes OG Medicinals a true OG?
Marc Steimer: Oh, easy — we have approximately forty in-house genetics that are Cannabis Cup winners, and I'd say around 50 to 60 percent of those are from OG Kush. We've spent a lot of time and effort keeping our plants the best they can be. We still use finer nutrients even though we're "commercial," but we have a unique system here for flavors and terpenes.
The terms "OG" and "OG Kush" are thrown around a lot in the strain world, but what, exactly, do they mean? Is true OG Kush from decades ago still identifiable today, or has OG become more of a set of cannabis characteristics we look for?
There are a couple different terminologies for OG. The first one would be "ocean grown," and that was where it all started; I think it started in California. But then OG became sort of an "original gangster" theme, something old-school. The OG Kush strain itself is still around, but it's one of the worst producers on the market. We had the original OG Kush strain, but we stopped growing it. Instead, we've crossed it with other strains to get those terpy, gassy strains, and we've crossed it with fruity stuff, too.
Have you noticed what goes into a strain's staying power? It seems like a lot of them don't stay on shelves longer than a season or a year anymore.
A lot of it comes down to cultivation methods. It takes a long time to start a new genetic and then get to a point of consistent quality harvest after harvest. It's very difficult indoors. We still have some of our same strains that we opened with — probably around 80 percent, I'd say. The ones we've lost — that usually comes down to not seeing a demand for them, being difficult to grow and a lot of other factors. But it's mostly customer-driven. If they keep calling for it, we'll find a way to produce it.
Pyramid OG is something we started growing in 2018. That took off, and it's still one of our best sellers. Silver Valley OG is another one. A lot of it is because growers keep it consistent. Most of our genetics are in-house, so that does take time for traction. Since we can't technically bring anything in or out of state lines, that also limits what we can grow.
OG Medicinals started as a wholesale cultivation, then opened a med-only dispensary, and now you're open for recreational sales, too. Why go that route?
When I originally came in here, we designed the space to be a grow with a dispensary up front. I think that was executed perfectly, but while I was building the grow, some laws changed, and a citywide moratorium came into effect, so the license for the dispensary wasn't active anymore. We pretty much had to start over as a business, and that's when I got more involved in the operational aspect of this place. I was asked to stay around after it was built, and I decided to move my family out here and start trying to find a dispensary license for this place.
We pivoted to a wholesale model and started doing tours, but we weren't gaining much for it, because we had nothing to sell them at the end. We scrapped that and started focusing on filling our wholesale orders. Then we were eventually able to open the store, and it's been a ride ever since.
How does having an architectural background help the trials and tribulations you face as a grower?
Every day, it helps. If you have an air conditioning failure or something else in the facility, you don't need to call someone else to have them come fix it as your room is burning up because the air conditioning is broken. Being hands-on helps a lot, because a lot of things pop up here, and you need to keep the lights on.
My first vertical grow was a 32-foot-tall unit that I made out of wood posts for a guy in Flint, Michigan. Not shitting you. He had this weird space with a cubicle on the front of the building that went like 40 feet high but was only 14 feet wide. So I said let's go vertical. It was built out of posts, beams and mostly leftover materials, because he didn't have much money. I built him a moving wooden rack, like a rolling library ladder, and he's still using that thing! That was years ago, and he still won't get a lift.
We've since used that idea in our current building. We wanted more production, but we only had so many square feet, so we've gone vertical in the whole facility. You work with what you've got.