Nestled behind some industrial park buildings in one of Tucson's secluded alcoves sits a nondescript warehouse void of any description of what lies within. No shop front, no signage. The only people who know it's there are the ones that need to know.
Inside smells like a evergreen forest, though, with a bit of a punch. And indeed, if you make it far enough in, you'll find the forest. Hundreds of bright-green cannabis plants fill several rooms, providing hundreds of pounds of cannabis for the Desert Bloom Healing Center dispensary.
Desert Bloom's grow currently handles the cultivation of thousands of plants inside and outside. From there, they're dried and cured until they're ready for trimming, extraction and concentration of the product that makes its way into their store.
Everything starts with a seed.
The process begins with mother plants from which stems are cut and put in small pots to grow as clones. In the main room sit four rows of double-tiered structures supporting two levels of marijuana plants. Here, the plants get tricked into growing during a "perpetual summer" with bright lights on for most of the day.
Once the plants mature to a point where they're ready to bloom, they're moved into one of four larger rooms where the lights are dimmed in order to once again trick the plants—this time, into budding.
Outside, cannabis plants grow underneath large half-cylinder tents covered with massive white sheets. Out here, says Desert Bloom Owner Aari Ruben, the plants grow under the "best lightbulb," the sun.
Contrary to conventional belief, the outside plants have a higher terpene count and higher THC and CBD concentrations. The plants, Ruben says, grow healthier outside despite the precision of indoor atmospheric conditions.
Onion plants scatter the soil between the cannabis stems. Ruben says they're part of a permaculture effort meant to create a self-sustained ecosystem.
When it's time for the plants to blossom outside, dark sheets of plastic, like blackout curtains, are pulled over greenhouse tents to dim the light from the sun.
The plants are watered with distilled water from a reverse osmosis machine nearby.
A high wall surrounds the greenhouses, providing cover from prying eyes.
Desert Bloom harvests about once every two weeks. Once the plants are cut, they're hung to dry until the stems are brittle.
The Desert Bloom motto is "art plus science equals success," Ruben says. There's a ballpark range for when the cured plants are ready for trimming, but it takes some experience and talent to tell when they're exactly ripe.
Once they're in prime shape, the plants are taken in large bins to the trim room where employees deftly cut stray leaves and stems from the bud. A trimming machine sits in the corner, typically used for bud that will eventually be made into concentrates.
After the cannabis is trimmed, some of it gets packaged for retail while the rest goes to the lab.
The room is filled with yellowed glassware that looks like something out of a sophomore chem lab. Here, Desert Bloom not only extracts the concentrated THC from the plants but also tests its own product to ensure purity and THC/CBD concentrations.
Finally, the concentrated THC is moved to another room where another employee sits with a syringe and a grid of about 50 vape cartridges at a time, filling each with intense concentration.
Ruben says the cultivation center will soon feature a full industrial kitchen in which the dispensary will make edibles in addition to their concentrates.
The size of the warehouse, the amount of equipment and dozens of employees reveal this is no cheap task. Though many dispensaries around the state run similar operations, several still have some final touches before running at full steam.
At Desert Bloom, Tucson Electric Power gets ready to test a new 4K amp system the dispensary requested because the neighborhood didn't have the infrastructure to support the cultivation center. Once it's up and running, only time stands between Ruben and his ambition.