Row upon row of cannabis seedlings stretch up toward the grow lights in LeafLine Labs.
By the time the plants are ready to harvest, medical marijuana will be legal in this state.
LeafLine Labs co-founder Dr. Andrew Bachman led state media on a tour of the company's 42,000-square-foot production facility in Cottage Grove. Medical marijuana will be legal on July 1, and Bachman says his company — which put up $15.1 million to convert a soybean field into a secure facility capable of growing half the state's marijuana crop — will be ready.
"If I didn't already believe in the power and potential of a small seed and a big dream, I most assuredly do now," Bachman told the crowd, as he welcomed visitors in for a tour of the site. "Only in Minnesota: horticulture meets medicine."
With a snip of oversized ceremonial scissors, Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey officially welcomed the cannabis business to town.
"What an amazing day," said Bailey at Wednesday's official ribbon cutting ceremony for the facility. "The community has been extremely positive about this coming to town, both for the process of what it's going to do to help people, and also for the jobs it's going to create and the tax base it's growing."
For Bailey, LeafLine is like any other pharmaceutical company setting up shop in Cottage Grove. The facility currently employs about 20 people, but the site has room to expand and the company expects to employ as many as 150 in the coming years, as Minnesota's medical cannabis program expands to include more patients.
Bailey said he regularly fields calls from people interested in working at LeafLine.
"It wasn't so much because of what they're selling. It's more because they know they're good-paying jobs — state of the art," he said.
From the outside, the marijuana manufacturing center looks like any other building in a suburban office park. Inside, workers in jumpsuits and hospital scrubs weave between tables of young plants growing in an organic soil-free growth medium made from coconut fiber. Overhead, heavy-duty air filters absorb the skunky aroma of the marijuana plants — ensuring there won't be any complaints from the neighbors about the smell.
The building interior is color-coded, orange and blue, like LeafLine's logo. The orange hallways lead to the rooms where the cannabis crop is coming in under grow lights so bright the staff offers visitors sunglasses before they step inside. The blue hallways lead to the manufacturing wing, where raw plant material is distilled into pills, oils and tinctures.
There are at least 20 different strains growing at LeafLine right now. Bachman, an emergency room physician who grew up playing in the greenhouses of his family's floral business, pointed to one plant — a bushy little specimen that looked like a tiny bonsai tree.
"This one's my favorite," he said, identifying it as a strain high in cannabidiol, a compound often prescribed to children suffering from seizure disorders. The entire process of getting the facility up and running this past year has been "thrilling and humbling," he said.
Patient registration is off to a sluggish start in Minnesota. As of last Friday, just 14 patients had made it through the registration process and were eligible to buy medical cannabis on July 1. The state had estimated that as many as 5,000 patients might enroll in the program in its early years.
The low numbers didn't alter LeafLine's production schedule, Bachman said.
Patient registration numbers are "right where we would expect," said Bachman, whose business proposal to the state was drafted with the assumption that a medical cannabis business wouldn't turn much of a profit — at least, not at first. "Ideology doesn't change overnight. This is a new program in Minnesota, and it's a program that's working. We are only 12 months removed from this bill becoming law, and we have patients filling our clinic on the first … It's amazing, really."
LeafLine will open its first medical cannabis clinic in Eagan at 10 a.m. July 1. The state's other marijuana manufacturer, Minnesota Medical Solutions, will open its first clinic in Minneapolis at midnight, the moment it's legal.