Aurora state-of-the-art marijuana growhouse puts the petal to the metal

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Head grower of Bud Fox, David Risley, walks through one of the vegetation rooms at the grow facility. Portrait by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Between the double doors of massive cannabis greenhouse Bud Fox Supply Co., the musk of marijuana permeates just about everything.

But inside the building lobby — an open-air space resembling your average corporate office complex — the smell is fresh drywall.

The 500-plant “growhouse,” which is Aurora’s first marijuana greenhouse, began operating in January to cultivate and prepare marijuana buds for recreational consumption. It’s an impressive, high-tech facility with potential to produce millions of dollars from a single harvest along with industrially-produced cannabinoid oil and shatter.

Officials from the City of Aurora’s Marijuana Enforcement Division toured the growhouse this week with the four-person Bud Fox staff, including General Manager Stu Hinton.

Marijuana plants in one of the vegetation rooms, before flowering. Once they flower, the plants will be moved to one of the flowering rooms. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

In the greenhouse, about 500 plants swayed lazily in a highly-controlled environment. Below each row of plants, an inflatable tube dispersed air evenly to keep the leaves aerated, and irrigation lines water the soil from underneath. Above, mist spritzed the plants periodically.

The plants are sprouting at incredible speeds. At six weeks old, they’re already two or three feet high, double the usual growth for that time.

In a nearby room, stainless-steel machinery waits to compress marijuana buds into hash oil and shatter — called concentrate products — with precise temperatures and pressures.

There’s nothing here resembling a college roommate’s basement grow operation – and Bud Fox staff are definitely not stereotypical pot-smokers.

General Manager of Bud Fox, Stu Hinton, gives a crash course on making Butane Hash Oil, explaining the purpose of the tanks in their top-of-the-line BHO system.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

That’s by design. Hinton and his staff are applying industrial processing systems to cannabis cultivation, they said.

The inspiration? The refined processes on a Toyota assembly line. And unlike countless marijuana entrepreneurs flocking to Colorado to cash in on a budding industry, they’ve got the capital to make their dreams a reality.

Hinton wouldn’t say how many millions of dollars they’ve invested into the facility, but traces of big money are all over the growhouse.

At least two massive safes will guard countless pounds of buds, guarded by steel mesh embedded between the drywall. Solar panels produce about 72 kilowatts of renewable energy, and almost 100 percent of industrial waste is recycled into the growing process. Light, water and organic pesticide fogging machines can all be controlled with the touch of an iPhone from anywhere in the world, staff said.

In the “vegetation room”, rows of glowing LED lights illuminated the potted plants in the 20,000 feet of greenhouse space, while other rooms waited in darkness until Bud Fox expands its production capabilities.

Then, there’s the 122 security cameras. Two of the cameras are “bomb-proof,” along with the rest of the electronics in the small hash oil concentrate extraction room.

There, a series of chambers will pressurize buds with flammable vapors including butane and propane to separate the essential cannabinoids from the plant. It’s not an entirely benign industrial process: Last year, three people were arrested in Boulder after their attempts to create THC concentrates in a home created an explosion instead.

Rows of marijuana plants are misted by a fogger in one of the vegetation rooms at the Bud Fox grow facility. The mist contains nutrients that feed the plants and is a more efficient method of watering the plants, producing no wasted water.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Bud Fox also vents the flammable gases from the ground up to reduce the danger of ignited gas. Steven Clark, a building inspection supervisor for the City of Aurora, demonstrated with a piece of paper. The air, hardly noticeable, held the paper in place against the wall.He’s part of a team inspecting marijuana production businesses across Aurora. According to Robin Peterson, who manages the Marijuana Enforcement Division, Aurora is home to 22 growhouses and 17 cannabis product manufacturing facilities.

Those other growhouses are all located inside industrial warehouses, Peterson said. That’s what makes Bud Fox unique.

In the growhouse, Hinton and the staff spoke passionately — and in deeply technical terms — about growing marijuana.

Hinton doesn’t smoke himself, though he said his “reason for being” earlier in life was the combination of marijuana and skiing on Vail’s slopes. Now, he’s interested in cannabis for the business challenge and opportunity to provide a “healing” product to consumers across Colorado, he said.

Eventually, the growhouse will expand to house 1,800 plants, he said. By June, Bud Fox’s buds will be on dispensary shelves.