Imagine being a cannabis grower in a state that allows medical marijuana. Who would you sell your plant material to? In most states, you cannot sell directly to consumers. That leaves you with only two other options: processors and retailers. But because retailers can only sell a certain amount of cannabis flower, most of what you produce would go to processors.
Processors are the operations that make cannabis products what they are. Some processors turn industrial hemp into fibers that eventually become threads, fabrics, and so forth. Others process plant material for industrial and commercial applications. Still others extract cannabis oils for use in cosmetics, health products, and medicines.
The People Behind the Scenes
Stepping back and analyzing how cannabis gets from field to retail shelf is a fascinating exercise. In that exercise, it quickly becomes apparent that processors are the forgotten ones. They are the people behind the scenes. They take cannabis plant material and transform it into usable products that other manufacturers take credit for.
Let’s say you wanted to buy clothing made from a hemp-cotton blend. It is likely you would be at least marginally familiar with the manufacturer’s name and reputation. You might go on their website and read all about how they got into making clothing from hemp. Do you think you would find even a mention of the processor who made the fibers that eventually became part of the hemp-cotton blend?
Medical Cannabis Processors
Processors in the medical cannabis field are less obscure than their industrial counterparts, but that is probably only due to the relative novelty of medical cannabis itself. Twenty years from now, when the culture is no longer debating the merits of medical marijuana, processors may fade away into the background.
For now, medical cannabis processors are talked about whenever people are trying to understand how cannabis becomes a medicine. Once again, it starts with growers. They produce plant material that ultimately gets sold to separately licensed processors.
From there, the plant is processed in a variety of ways depending on the processor’s goals. Some of the plant material might be processed to harvest marijuana buds that medical cannabis patients can either smoke, dry heat, or put into edibles. The rest of the material is subjected to cannabinoid extraction.
Extracting and Distilling
Extraction is the process of capturing CBD, THC, and a host of additional terpenes and cannabinoids. A processor will invest in extraction equipment manufactured by companies like Houston-based CedarStoneIndustry. Extraction can be accomplished through steam distillation, a liquid solvent, or supercritical CO2.
Distillation follows extraction. Distilling hemp extracts is no different than distilling alcohol. Ongoing cycles of heat and cooling result in condensation that separates individual components at different rates. Those components become ingredients for CBD and medical marijuana products.
A processor might combine THC with several terpenes in a propylene glycol suspension to create a medical vaping product. On the other side of the plant, workers might be creating edible products infused with CBD. Indeed, the possibilities are limited only by state and federal regulations.
The Processors Make It Work
Growers provide a valuable service in producing viable cannabis plants. Retailers do their part by selling hemp and marijuana products to customers. But in between the two of them are the processors that make it all work. The processors are the ones who turn plant material into usable products.
Next time you hear someone talking about industrial or medical cannabis, think about processing operations. Without them doing what they do, cannabis plants would not be nearly as valuable as they now are.