On Nov. 15, Item 9 Labs, a dispensary franchisor that produces cannabis products, broke ground on a $12.5 million expansion of its cultivation and lab site in Coolidge. The facility will enlarge its operational space from 19,200 square feet to over 640,000 square feet at full build out — constituting a 3,100% increase.
The first phase of development, which is expected to finish in Summer 2022, will add three buildings and two greenhouses to the site.
“With phase one of our expansion, we expect to increase output of our high-quality flower by 30-35%,” says Cory Carter, vice president of cultivation of Item 9 Labs Corp. “Our greenhouses will reduce reliance on third-party sourced material for lab productions by 40-50%.”
Once the full expansion is completed in the next few years, the complex will include an expanded extraction lab, seven indoor cultivation buildings, 16 greenhouses, six headhouses and five acres dedicated to outdoor cultivation.
Eric Eisele, lab manager for Item 9, explains that new space will allow for greater production of concentrates, which extracts resin from the cannabis plant that can be used in a variety of forms.
“Crude production will be done on a big centrifugal ethanol recovery skid, which will yield 60 pounds of product an hour. That’s quite a bit compared to the 60 pounds a day we started with,” he says. “We’ve been using a crystallization process with what is essentially a pressure vessel that produced 10-to-20-pound batches, but through some process refinements we’ve done in the lab, we’ve moved on to a couple hundred-pound bathes. In the new space we’ll be able to take that even further.”
Furthermore, the lab expansion enables the company to engage in different extraction processes that will diversify its product lineup. Eisele mentions that patients and costumers enjoy concentrates because the user only loses 20% of the product’s tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main chemical responsible for cannabis’ euphoric effects — whereas the smoking flower results in a 50% loss of THC.
“Each extraction process has its own pros and cons,” Eisele says. “Extraction material can give you different end products depending on strain, freshness, cure, and trim versus fresh frozen full flowers. The end goal of each process is to offer a highly potent end product. Our new facility will ensure we’re set up for each result wanted.”
All finished products go to a third-party that tests not only for potency, but also for contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides and residual solvents.
“Each batch of flower and concentrate must pass a multiple panel test before being packaged and sold to a licensed dispensary. The third-party testing labs are certified through the Arizona Department of Health Services,” explains Eisele.
The first phase of expansion is expected to add 60 to 70 jobs to Item 9’s cultivation, processing and packaging operations, with a goal of creating more than 200 jobs at full build out.