Exclusive: Tour the High-Tech Cannabis Factory of Tomorrow

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OAKLAND, California -- It's no secret that weed is a big agricultural business, so it's only natural that it's made it to the next stop on its way to a full capitalist makeover: mass production.

The video below is an exclusive look at what could be the country's first official cannabis factory, a 60,000 sq. ft. facility in Oakland that would house 30,000 plants and could produce $50 million of cannabis per year. Part of a proposal by Gropech, a non-profit that promises to create hundreds of union jobs and reinvest profits in the Bay Area if given a permit by the Oakland City Council, the facility would supply medical dispensaries across the state in an attempt to bring transparency to the growing process. "The laws in California were sort of backward because they addressed retail sales before wholesale production," said Derek Peterson, co-founder of Gropech. "It would be like if you built a bunch of liquor stores, and only afterward built distilleries."

The result, he says, is that much of the cannabis sold in medical dispensaries is produced in unregulated and often unsanitary environments -- the cannabis equivalent of moonshine. "A lot of cannabis sold by medical dispensaries is grown by farmers -- and I hesitate to use the term farmers -- in basements and garages."

The company brought in electrical and mechanical engineers, as well as horticulturalists, to advise how to build laboratory-quality growing facilities that are also environmentally friendly. Their proposal aims for LEED certification, a measure of environmental impact. It will use solar energy and generate zero wastewater. All these efforts are geared toward mitigating the problems that often plague cannabis cultivation.

"Indoor growing is very challenging," Peterson said, citing mold and bugs as two of the largest issues that have to be addressed by any indoor grower. Pesticides or other products used to combat mold and bugs can be to harmful to medical marijuana users, and there is currently no regulatory body to monitor the presence of such contaminants. Peterson also pointed out that cancer patients often have weakened immune systems as a result of chemotherapy and other treatments, making them more susceptible to carcinogens like mold and pesticides. And safety isn't just an issue at the consumption end.

"Water, high energy, and plant material are just a perfect recipe for fires," Peterson said, which growers in California have known no shortage of in their attempt to meet the demand of medical dispensaries.

Security will be an issue for any pot factory; cannabis sells at about the same price per ounce as gold, making this facility something of a horticultural Fort Knox.

"We're in talks with serious security contractors -- ex-military, ex-Navy SEALs, people with extensive experience guarding high-value properties," he said. "We've got one shot. If something happens -- if there's a break-in, or a worker is hurt, or something happens to the plants -- then every naysayer is going to come out of the woodwork and say, 'I told you it couldn't be done.'"

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Kyle Berlin is a freelance writer based in Michigan. He has written for Fast Company, Rolling Stone and other publications.

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