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This Mendocino Farmstead Is a Weed Processing Plant, Indie Co-Op, and Bed-and-Breakfast All Rolled into One

A new marijuana company bets big on a bold new strategy.


An aerial view of the Flow Cannabis Institute.

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An inflorescence sorter at the new facility.

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Flow Kana’s finished product.

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At the end of a rural road in southeastern Mendocino County, the modest homes of the Bel Arbres community give way to rolling green hills and fertile valleys. A young girl strums a ukulele on the back porch of an old white country house while a man in a cowboy hat directs cars, breaking out in a jig that kicks up a plume of dust. A drone copter buzzes above. A Balkan-inflected jazz band plays the Mission:Impossible theme below. On the hillside beyond sits a 20-foot-diameter glass sculpture of an octopus with blue and orange tentacles. The smell of weed is everywhere.

The scene is taking place on the old farmstead of the winemaking Fetzer family, newly rebuilt and rebranded as the Flow Cannabis Institute, an 80-acre campus that combines the amenities of a coffee co-op, a winery, an ashram, a saloon, a bed-and-breakfast, a cannabis-processing center, and 85,000 square feet of industrial space. One day this April, the institute welcomed hundreds of guests to see the ribbon cut, wander the grounds, and sample the product.

“You should have seen this a year ago,” says Morgan Paxhia, cofounder and managing director of the cannabis investment firm Poseidon Asset Management, which backed Flow Kana, the company that owns the institute. “It was dilapidated.” That was before Flow Kana CEO Michael Steinmetz bought the place and overhauled its warehouses and other buildings with an eye toward creating a hub for the legal cannabis industry. The company envisions the facility as a central location for testing, drying, curing, trimming, processing, manufacturing, and distributing cannabis-based products on a massive scale, although it declines to share exact numbers.

As California’s recreational-weed market matures, this could be one of its nerve centers, an uneasy but compelling blend of the Emerald Triangle and Silicon Valley where the conversation is as likely to broach hyper-efficient supply chains as it is the virtues of sun-grown agriculture. “There are 53,000 small cannabis farmers hiding in California, all of whom are at risk of being lost to the Big Ag model,” Steinmetz says. Instead of big plots of monocrops, Steinmetz wants to let a thousand buds bloom, allowing small farmers to focus on potency, taste, and terroir while Flow Kana handles the logistics, trucking the cannabis to dispensaries and selling online.

As the afternoon sun dips, the polo-shirted chair of the county board of supervisors, Dan Hamburg, gives an unexpectedly emotional speech about the bad old days in the ’70s and ’80s. In 1979, then–California attorney general George Deukmejian donned a flak jacket and boarded a helicopter to carry out raids against marijuana farms in Mendocino County. Now the state’s leading gubernatorial candidate, Gavin Newsom, unabashedly supports the newly legalized marijuana industry. As one T-shirt in the crowd reads, “Weed Fought the Law, and Weed Won.”

The Flow Cannabis Institute is, in part, what victory looks like. In the main center, visitors stand in awe as white-coated workers wearing hairnets and rubber gloves process hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of weed. The smell of it is physical—it hits you in the face. At one station, weed pours down an inflorescence sorter to be separated by size. At another, a woman weighs, tamps, and snips joints with a practiced hand, neatly boxing them. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the efficiency and scale.

As we repair to the saloon, old habits die hard. One friend ducks into a back room, where blunts the size of fingers are being distributed freely. She returns, a half dozen in hand. “Can you believe all this?” she marvels as the sun sets. Plenty has been done, but plenty still remains, she says, ticking off the regulatory decisions still pending. “But it’s better than it used to be.”

Originally published in the July issue of
San Francisco

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