I-Team: Exclusive tour of unique Las Vegas marijuana growing facility

LAS VEGAS - Clouds of uncertainty now hover over Nevada's legal marijuana industry. The Department of Justice recently put several states on notice with a reminder that cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

In Nevada, investors have plowed tens of millions of dollars into dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the belief that they will be able to sell products to medical patients as well as recreational users.

The I-Team recently got an inside look at what might be the most advanced cannabis cultivation operation anywhere. 

Nevada's burgeoning marijuana industry is moving forward, and expects sales to quadruple later this year when recreational customers can buy from dispensaries, which is why many of the richest, most powerful players in our state now own a piece of the business.  

8 News NOW was the first television news crew allowed inside what may be the most advanced cultivation facility anywhere.

From the outside, it looks like any other industrial warehouse. Inside, it's as if you've entered the cannabis farm at Area 51. The signs are everywhere.

"We've spent a lot of time and effort on security," said Armen Yemenidjian, COO of Desert Grown Farms.  "We have over 100 cameras in this facility. Every room is locked. We have a security station up front.

And for a good reason. Desert Grown Farms is, in effect, growing gold, 57,000 square feet devoted to meticulously cultivating the highest quality marijuana in the world.

Behind each secured door are hundreds of marijuana plants in various stages of growth. Forests of cannabis plants, 80 different strains so far, each engineered to produce specific effects, and each with their own brand names that customers and patients will come to recognize.

"This strain here is called Sour Banana Sherbet. It is very high in mercine, anyone with pain. It would be the best strain for them," Yemenidjian said.

Yemenidjian is the chief operating officer and co-founder of Desert Grown Farms. When he and his partners invested millions into the business, they could only hope that recreational marijuana would be legalized in Nevada.

"We didn't build this because of recreational or medical. We built this because we wanted to grow the best quality cannabis in the world and you can't do that unless you are consistent on certain measures," Yemeneidjian said.

The operation is asexual, meaning there are only female plants. Reproduction is by cloning. A top is cut off one of the mother plants, trimmed and dipped into solution, then is sort of incubated for up to a week until it grows roots.

"This is our Venom OG which is another cut. Every single plant in this facility is tagged individually so you can go to any plant in the flower or harvest and scan it with a bar code reader. It will tell you when it was cut, which mother plant it was cut from and the history of that plant," Yemeneidjian said.

After the clone room, plants head for the veg room and are bombarded with special light for 18 hours per day. that lasts from 4 to 6 weeks.

In the next stage, the plants are in effect tricked by different lights and hours, 12 hours on, 12 off. And every plant has its own emitters which feed nutrients and water.

"This is the heart and brain of the operation," Yemeneidjian said.

If Walter White of "Breaking Bad" were to design a marijuana farm, this is what it might be like. This is the Argus system. It takes highly filtered water, mixes special nutrients and fertilizer, and then pumps it out, as many as five times per day to every individual plant.

"We don't have anyone hand measuring anything. Everything in this facility is measured by a computer and directly injected into the plant."

An individual plant can produce up to a pound of marijuana bud, which can sell for more than $300 an ounce. Do the math. Nearly every part of the plant gets used in the production of a range of products -- edibles and drinks -- which are manufactured and packaged in another part of the facility.  

Trays contain cannabis infused gummy bears. Another looks like peanut brittle. The company is confident the market will be much bigger in the near future.

"I really believe it," Yemeneidjian said, "I don't know what it was like at the end of prohibition for alcohol but the difference is, this plant helps people and it heals people."

Yemenidjian believes strongly enough in the future of marijuana that he left behind a career in the casino industry and had to surrender his gaming license forever. Gaming control won't allow someone to be involved in both industries.

The question that gets asked most often -- do they give away free samples at the facility? No.
 


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