The Grow-Off has branched out quickly since it was founded in 2016, hosting cultivation contests between medical and retail cannabis operations in Colorado and California, with plans to expand into more states soon. But the Colorado contest will be a little less mysterious this year: The mystery strain for the current bout has been shared with all fifty competitors, after a leaker spilled the beans.
Grow-Off co-founder Jake Browne had kept the genetics for each contest a secret until the awards ceremony to ensure that no team had an advantage when growing the mystery strain, but says he felt he had to publicly divulge its identity after someone began leaking it to competitors. "We had competitors reach out to us and say they were receiving messages on Instagram telling them what the genetics were," Browne explains. "It wasn't the first time someone had tried to mess around with this or ruffle our feathers, but when I heard the name 'Tangerine Power,' my heart sank."
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After learning that the Grow-Off's secret had been exposed, Browne shared the name of the strain with fifty of the 2018 competitors and offered a full refund to each. To date, he says, only one team has backed out, and he's confident that none of the remaining teams have worked with Tangerine Power before. "For us, we wouldn't want any competitor to have experience with some of the parent strains and have a leg up. We want everyone to go into this with as level a playing field as possible," he explains.
Tangerine Power is bred by Nevada's Sin City Seeds and can be bought at a few dispensaries around Denver, including The Herbal Cure, Riverrock Wellness and LivWell. The genetics for the Grow-Off were supplied by The Herbal Cure, a retired winner of past competitions — and that's where things get messy.
Browne says a former employee of The Herbal Cure, Colin McNaughton, began sharing the genetics with teams on Instagram, claiming they were unstable. The Herbal Cure confirmed McNaughton's past employment, and several current employees confirmed that he was the person who shared the genetics with Grow-Off contestants.
McNaughton, who was with the company for approximately five to six months, has filed an unemployment claim with The Herbal Cure, so director of operations Matt Bencivenga wouldn't divulge why he no longer works there. Westword made multiple attempts to talk with McNaughton, who declined to be interviewed for this story. (He did, however, point out grammatical errors in one emailed request for an interview.)
Bencivenga says Tangerine Power scores "about 35 out of 100" in DNA lab testing that ranks instability, which means it's moderately stable in the grow. According to Bencivenga, the word "stability" in cannabis breeding reflects consistent traits such as structure, potency, yield and flavor in cultivations that have few variables.
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"It's not referring to unstable sexual traits — like hermaphroditing or throwing out male pollen. For us, 'unstable' means that it may not grow the same way at the same time," Bencivenga says. "But we made sure all of the phenotypes in this were stable before it even started."
Despite the leak, both Browne and Bencivenga think the Grow-Off won't be compromised because Tangerine Power is still relatively new to Colorado. Bred from Agent Orange and Blue Power, the strain is a sativa-leaning hybrid with DNA that tests in the same ballpark as Gorilla Glue and Skittlz. "We immediately got really excited to see that, because those are huge names. We wanted to have something that, at the end of the day, customers are going to be excited about, too," Browne says. "We looked at trying different genetics after [the leak], but we had people who would've had to drive in from Telluride and Crested Butte, and we would've had to push it back weeks to get some new [mother plants]."
Grow-Off competitors are still in their first month of growing the strain; winners for flavor, potency and yield are expected to be announced in August. After the competition ends, customers can buy the strain from any dispensary or wholesale grow that participated in the contest.
"What's done is done," Browne says of the leak. "But I think this really speaks to how confident every team is in their own skills, that they're still willing to move forward. This is a competition that highlights growers and how hard their jobs are. It's very humbling."