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Toni Fox is the owner of 3-D Cannabis Center, a medical marijuana center in Denver, Colorado. They’ve been operating for three years as a medical facility that was originally 10,000 square feet. They recently expanded and added another 8000 sq. ft. as they’re preparing for retail marijuana sales in January 1, 2014.
Diane Fornbacher: How did you first get involved with the cannabis industry? I know you’ve had personal experience with a family member getting into some trouble with the law but that’s not the only reason…
Toni Fox: I was impassioned to become an activist because my brother served ten years in federal prison for marijuana. He was a very small time dealer in a small town and kept meticulous records. They (the authorities) hit him on everything and gave him a ten year mandatory minimum sentence. I thought, “Wow, these laws are really wrong and I need to fight to change them” so I became an avid activist in legalization. We became home growers in about 2001 and had a small growing closet. We started out with six plants and I became (slightly) obsessed with it and increased that, became a caregiver, built a secret room in our basement, grew more. We had a landscape company, decided to switch businesses and open a cannabis center instead.
DF: Earlier, there was a visitor to 3-D from Canada and she spoke of her frustration with trying to educate a person suffering from cancer about cannabis who did not want to listen. What is it that you tell people you encounter who need to be educated?
Toni: Well, I start with the basics. I believe that the cannabis plant is the Tree of Life. It can do so many things but really, for a non-user, you have to start with simplicity. You cannot argue the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol. It’s not debatable. It’s just a fact. I preface my conversations usually by saying that marijuana is a safer substance than alcohol, it’s not right that we’re penalized for choosing a substance that’s safer. We need to promote that. It is a civil liberty, a fundamental right. It’s healthier. Just safer. No one has ever died from it.
I come from a line of alcoholics. I’ve had experience with them and many people have seen abuse that results from irresponsible use like violence. Cannabis doesn’t do that – it does not influence people to be violent.
DF: What kind of grow mediums do you use at 3-D?
Toni: Well, we started with soil, 100% organic old school standard process. We have 7,000 square feet of organic soil plants being cultivated. By organic, I mean we even make our own fertilizer teas out of various organic nutrients, compost, guano…that sort of thing. We use live ladybugs as our pesticide. We don’t ever spray anything on our plants and there is nothing synthetic in them. The quality of our cannabis is mind-blowing.
We recently acquired 8,000 square feet addition and those are all hydroponic rooms, so we’re using rockwool cubes and a standard hydroponic system. We have a lot of photos on our website, Instagram and Facebook page.
DF: You create much of your own in-house structures and mixes in your grow set up but do you have any company favorites for other things like water filtration, lights and pumps?
Toni: There is one new major entrepreneurial group that’s in Colorado called The Grower’s Supply Consignment. They’re wonderful and right across the street.
DF: Well, that’s convenient.
Toni: It’s great! (laughs) but we’re primarily sticking with the large hydroponic grow stores like Way to Grow, those types of places. I hate giving my money to them though because they’ve been anti-marijuana for so long. I remember when we started this business, if I said “marijuana” once, they’d kick me out! They were like “it’s tomatoes!” And I’m like, “No, it’s marijuana and I just dropped $30,000 in your store!” so there’s still that stigma because of the federal laws. It’s still illegal at a federal level.
DF: They have to be choosy about their words I guess.
Toni: Apparently .
DF: What strains are you growing at the moment? Do you switch them up? I guess it vacillates with consumer wants and patient needs as they come in and register.
Toni: We do and it’s our growers choice. When we first determined the genetics we were going to grow, we picked 35 strains that were all 20% THC or higher. That was our main goal initially — to get the most potent, quality cannabis available. As we’ve evolved over the last three years, we are currently growing about 60 different strains of cannabis. Each room that we have, and that is about 10 grow rooms, each has a variety of strains in it, so every harvest we’re getting a nice assortment. We rotate out our stock, our moms are changed out about every six months so our strains change as well. We’re always getting new strains in.
DF: What are the strains that you consistently find that people really, really like?
Toni: Some of our key strains that we’re very known for on the sativa side would be Sour Diesel – it’s huge and everyone loves it, very potent. Golden Goat is another strong sativa. On our indica side, Grape Ape – it dominates, our Grape Ape is amazing. Pineapple… a lot of the fruity flavors. Hybrids, we have a large variety, lots of kushes that are delicious like Pink Kush for instance. Everything is so unique — flavor, scent, taste. Guaranteed across the board with potency that will knock your socks off. The most popular one now is Girl Scout Cookies out of California. Everybody wants that.
DF: What do you think of the names of some of the strains? Are there any you think could benefit from a name change?
Toni: Green crack? Wheelchair? Agent Orange? I really hate that last one. My dad was in Vietnam! How am I supposed to sell that to suburban soccer moms? Ya know, come on…
DF: You don’t accept credit cards here and the majority of other dispensaries do not either. Can you enlighten our readers as to why this is?
Toni: Well, I don’t accept credit cards because MasterCard and Visa said they didn’t want our money. In August of last year, they basically came out and said “Oh, you know we’ve been accepting millions of dollars forever but now we’re not going to take any of your medical marijuana money.” I’m aware that there might be ways around that but I choose not to give my money, my astronomical fees to either company. Also, since it is federally illegal, there are many complications. I have an ATM on site and everybody is very happy with that. It works very well.
DF: What will recreational look like come January and what are your expectations for the months that follow in 2014?
Toni: Being in the medical industry in Colorado has been very competitive. You see very little traffic flow. I see 25-30 people come through my door every day. That’s the standard for the last three years. On January 1st, I’m thinking I’m going to be seeing 300-500 people and maybe several more hundred per day.
DF: Holy shit, Toni! That’s just mind-blowing to me. How are you going to keep up your supply, girl?
Toni: I’ve got to grow more marijuana! That’s been my mantra since I’ve been doing this. We run out every day, we don’t grow nearly enough, do not have the revenue to buy the wholesale that’s out there so we’ve just been slowly acquiring more space, building out the rooms. My goal in the next 4-5 weeks is to have secured an acre or two of outdoor greenhouse grow, which will be in production by spring. We will have a shortage of cannabis, the prices are going to re-set higher for the retail side, the taxes are higher — it’s close to 30%. It will be a substantial increase from what we’ve seen on the medical side. We will run out of marijuana but the good thing about that is we can always grow more.
DF: What does the medical marijuana industry look like these days as opposed to 3 years ago? So much happens from one year to the next, it’s rather dizzying even for entrenched activists and people on the business end of things. You’re involved on both sides.
Toni: When we first opened, there were over 800 dispensaries in Colorado. The competition was very tough then but it was very individual, it was small business people having one center doing their own thing. Now, the competition has consolidated, so basically all the Mom and Pops are all gone. They’ve just run out of money or not been able to sustain or compete with the big boys. The larger facilities and the larger players in this industry just keep buying up those locations and opening up another store location #9 or #10…and they’re growing hundreds of thousands of square feet. So while it was very tough in the beginning, it is that much more tough than it was back then.
DF: What are your feelings on that? It’s not dissimilar to any other kind of capital investment story in this country where there used to be a lot of “main street” type of businesses and now we have all these big box stores.
Toni: Oh, well it’s definitely the way cannabis is going to go. The big boys, the really big boys are going to get in — the out-of-staters, big pharma, tobacco…the people that could just crush us are going to come in as soon as the feds change their policies. At that point, I feel that we will have a niche base. Colorado is very much known for its microbrews and alcohol production. I think it will be very much the same with cannabis. People are going to want that niche market where they can come see the viewing corridor and experience the organic quality versus that 7-11 mass-produced cannabis. I feel like we have a nice, fair advantage because we have a couple of years in this industry before outsiders can come in because of the moratoriums that have been imposed. I’m fine with it, more power to them. I just can’t focus on anyone else’s game, just on what I am doing. I will continue to be the turtle and just do the best I can producing the best and most marijuana possible.
DF: What can people who adore 3-D do to support your business?
Toni: Continue to spread the word, let people know they are welcome. Many people are afraid to come through our doors because it does not appear to be from the outside what it is on the inside (Editor’s note: 3-D is located in an industrial park area of Denver). The public is welcome to take free tours of our business. You do not need a red card or a medical recommendation to come into my facility and have a tour. After January 1st, you will be able to purchase (recreational) cannabis but before then, we are still open to do tours every single day including Christmas. We can show you what we do, what we’re about, how we grow. We like educating people, sharing knowledge and our love of cannabis.
DF: What kind of advice do you have for would-be growers, business people, activists, people who are really in touch with the dream of starting a business or making a difference in this world?
Toni: My advice is: UNITE. That’s number one. We legalized cannabis in Colorado because of what we did medically because we united as activists. It took a long time, six to seven years. We had little battles with municipalities that we won. It just expands from there. Social media is amazing for that because it’s connecting us all. Our stories are inspiring. That’s what I want — to inspire people and encourage them to unite.