Establishing an Outdoor Recreational Cannabis Operation in the US in 2024

About the Author

My name is Joshua and got my first degree in the School of Hard Knocks, for selling pot, back in Northern Cali in the year 1997. Over a decade later I gave up a life of debauchery and mayhem and earned my Associates Degree from College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Ca and then on to earn my BS in Psychology, from Southern Oregon University. I am currently half way complete with my MBA. Maybe one day I'll finish that, but for now it's on hold. 

I cut my professional teeth in the cannabis industry, so to speak, working on one of Oregon's first tier two recreational farms, back in 2016, when laws were just starting to change here. I was fortunate enough to be involved in the administrative side of things, as well as helping manage the crew out in the field from just after clones were cut to harvest time. Though my role was specifically as an administrative assistant, there was really no room for someone to JUST spend their time at a computer, when there's plenty of work needs done on any farm.

While collaborating with state agencies and handling various administrative tasks, I also actively participated in farm work. Surprisingly, I learned much more than I initially realized during this process. Unfortunately, the person I worked for faced some insurmountable challenges, leading me to join KALIX CPN shortly after the harvest. Back then, it was still known as In and Out Gardens. Over the past seven years, I’ve worked alongside some of Southern Oregon’s best growers and been to so many cannabis farms I can't count, witnessing both success stories and setbacks. It's drawing from my eight years of industry knowledge and experience, I’m sharing this information with you today. 

On the real... I feel this needs to be said

The US cannabis industry is booming, with more and more states legalizing recreational use. For experienced and even inexperienced farmers looking to enter this exciting market, outdoor cultivation offers a unique opportunity to produce high-quality cannabis while leveraging the power of nature. However, navigating the legalities and intricacies of any type of cannabis production requires careful planning and a deep understanding of best practices. This article, the first in a series exploring various aspects of legal cannabis cultivation, provides a high-level overview from a seasoned industry veteran's perspective. It's crucial to consult with experienced cannabis attorneys and licensing specialists to ensure compliance with the ever-evolving legal landscape in your chosen state.

This article provides a foundational framework for setting up an outdoor recreational cannabis operation in the US. While I am as thorough as I can be for the sake of this project, I am not intending this article to be all inclusive of all matters that should be considered when planning to operate a cannabis farm. In future articles, we'll delve deeper into other types of operations (smaller scale, indoor, etc..) and specific aspects like strain selection, cultivation best practices, harvesting and processing techniques, and everything in between. Remember, success in the cannabis industry requires not only passion but also meticulous planning, strict adherence to regulations, and a commitment to producing high-quality cannabis for a discerning market. 

Pre-Planning: Choosing Your Battleground

The first step in your outdoor cannabis adventure is selecting the right state. If you don't already know where you are going to operate, deciding which state's rules and regulations you want to follow is very important. After all, not all recreational cannabis markets are created equal. Currently, each state has it's own rules and laws around operating a recreational Cannabis grow of any type. Conduct thorough research, considering factors like:

  • Licensing Fees & Tax Structures: Startup and ongoing licensing fees can vary significantly. Similarly, tax structures for cannabis cultivation and sales differ by state. Understanding these costs upfront will help you create a sound financial plan.
  • Testing Requirements: Each state has specific testing requirements for cannabis flower and products. Familiarize yourself with these requirements to ensure your product meets all safety and quality standards.
  • Competition: A flourishing market is a good sign, but intense competition can drive down prices. Research the existing cannabis landscape in your target state to understand the potential market saturation.
  • Tracking: Each and every state has rules for tracking your plants, from seed to sale. Companies like Metrc and BioTrackTHC have a strong foothold in the game across the country, but be sure to check the requirements where you are looking to establish your farm. Some states require use of specific software.

If you are looking for the best state for your business to operate, be meticulous. Take the time to consider as many angles as you can, not just what we have laid out here. In the Cannabis Industry, things can and will change often, as this "new" industry seeks equilibrium across the nation. 

Building Your Business: From Seed to Sale

Once you've chosen your state, it's time to establish a legal business entity. Consult with a lawyer to determine the most suitable structure, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a Corporation. This will not only ensure legal compliance but also protect your personal assets. This is pretty standard stuff when starting a new business. 

Next, develop a comprehensive business plan. This document serves as your roadmap to success, outlining your operational strategy, budget, marketing approach, and potential risks. A well-crafted business plan is essential for securing funding and attracting investors, and you will likely need them. Unless you are independently wealthy. In which case, we'd like to talk to you about a business opportunity (wink wink).

Breaking into this industry isn't cheap. Here in Oregon they are no longer issuing producers Licenses so you have to buy one from someone who has one for sale and they can basically name their price, from what I have seen. That being said, many license are being sold along with the property and equipment used by the licensee. I've seen them selling for as low as $5,000 for just a license and as much as a million dollars or more, inclusively. 

Licensing and Permits: Navigating the Regulatory Maze

Obtaining the necessary licenses and permits is paramount for legal operation. Again, research your state's cannabis regulations to identify all required licenses and permits for large-scale outdoor cultivation. Be prepared for application fees and a potentially competitive licensing process. Remember, compliance is crucial, so don't hesitate to seek guidance from experienced cannabis attorneys and licensing specialists, in your area.

Finding Your Green Oasis: The Perfect Outdoor Plot

The ideal location for your large-scale outdoor operation is a spacious plot (ideally 10+ acres) with specific characteristics that contribute to optimal cannabis growth. Here are some key considerations:

  • Climate is King: Seek a location with a long growing season and appropriate temperatures and sunlight hours for your chosen strains. Research historical weather data and consult with local agricultural experts to understand the climate patterns in your target area.
  • Water, Water Everywhere: Cannabis is a thirsty crop, so a reliable source of clean water is essential for irrigation. Consider on-site wells or securing water rights to ensure consistent and sustainable access to this vital resource.
  • The Dirt on Soil Quality: Rich, well-draining soil with a suitable pH level (ideally between 6.0 and 7.0) provides the foundation for healthy cannabis growth. Soil testing will reveal any deficiencies that can be addressed through amendments. Remember, healthy soil leads to healthy plants!
  • Security Matters: Cannabis is a valuable crop, so prioritize security measures to deter theft and unauthorized access. Consider fencing, security cameras, and on-site security personnel to protect your investment.
  • Playing by the Rules: Ensure your chosen location complies with all local zoning laws and setback requirements for cannabis cultivation. Don't be afraid to reach out to your local zoning board for clarification to avoid any potential roadblocks down the line.

Cultivating Your Cannabis Oasis: Operational Nuts and Bolts

Now that you've secured your ideal location and navigated the legalities, it's time to delve into the operational heart of your large-scale outdoor cannabis operation. From selecting the right strains to ensuring a successful harvest, this section equips you with the knowledge to cultivate a thriving cannabis haven.

Selecting Star Strains: Breeding for Success

Choosing the right cannabis strains is critical for a bountiful harvest. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting strains for your outdoor paradise:

  • Flowering Time: Understanding your growing season's length is paramount. Opt for strains with flowering times that align with your local climate or growing style (ie. Light Dep). Early flowering strains are ideal for areas with shorter seasons, while late bloomers thrive in regions with extended summers, just as one example.
  • Nature's Armor: Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Select strains with natural resistance to common outdoor pests and diseases prevalent in your region. There are also certain nutritional steps you can take to help build a plant's resilience to pests. This reduces reliance on pesticides and promotes a more sustainable cultivation approach.
  • Yielding Green Giants: Large-scale cultivation is all about maximizing production. Prioritize strains known for high yields. Research reputable seed banks and consult with experienced cannabis growers in your area to identify high-yielding strains that flourish outdoors.
  • Market Magic: Growing phenomenal cannabis is only half the battle. Understanding consumer preferences is crucial. Research popular strains among recreational consumers in your target market. Striking a balance between high yields and market demand ensures your product finds a happy home.

Seeding and Propagation: A Head Start on Nature

We have heard some cultivators sow seeds directly outdoors, but that just seems crazy to us. Starting seedlings indoors in a controlled environment offers several advantages. This allows for earlier germination and stronger seedling development before transplanting them to the unforgiving elements outdoors. Most importantly, however, this method allows the grower to identify sex of the plants. We will have more on how to discern this in another article. When popping seeds, utilize high-quality grow lights, maintain consistent temperatures and humidity, and implement proper watering practices to nurture your seedlings into robust young plants.

If dealing with seedlings isn't your thing and you want consistent product, we strongly suggest you seek out a licensed producer who is selling clones. In today's market consistency in a strain could make or break you. To assure consistency, either do a 'pheno-hunt' on your own to find the genetics you like or purchase clones from a reputable dealer. Be sure when buying clones to consider local tracking rules and regulations. 

I'd recommend growing your babies in greenhouses until they are strong enough (or BIG enough) to handle the stresses of being outdoors. This is a common practice here in Oregon and I am sure across the country cannabis farmers are doing much the same. 

Planting and Cultivation: A Symphony of Sun, Soil, and Science

Once your chosen strains have developed strong root systems and at least a few sets of true leaves, it's time to transplant them outdoors. Here are some best practices to cultivate a thriving cannabis haven:

  • Planting Schedule Precision: Develop a planting schedule based on your strains' flowering times and your local climate's specific weather patterns. Transplanting too early can expose tender seedlings to frost or unpredictable weather events.
  • Spacing for Sunshine and Strength: Design a planting layout that maximizes sunlight exposure for each plant. Adequate spacing also promotes good airflow, which helps prevent the spread of mold and mildew. Utilize online resources or consult with experienced cannabis farmers to determine the optimal spacing for your chosen strains.
  • Soil Savvy: Healthy soil is the foundation of robust cannabis plants. Implement a soil testing and amendment program. Test your soil to identify any nutrient deficiencies and amend it accordingly with organic matter, compost, or other suitable amendments to create a fertile environment rich in the nutrients cannabis craves.
  • Hydration Heroes: Irrigation Systems : Design and install an efficient irrigation system to ensure consistent and adequate water delivery throughout your large-scale operation. Drip irrigation systems are a popular choice for cannabis cultivation as they deliver water directly to the root zone, minimizing waste and promoting water conservation.
  • Integrated Pest Management: Nature's Guardians: Mother Nature can sometimes bring unwanted guests to your cannabis soirée. Implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy is vital for preventing and controlling pest outbreaks. We find the best IPM strategy focuses on using organic methods, such as introducing beneficial insects or using botanical sprays, to create a natural balance in your cannabis ecosystem. By promoting a healthy habitat, you can minimize the need for harsh chemical pesticides and ensure a cleaner, more sustainable cultivation process. Be sure to learn what you are allowed to do and not do, per your states regulations on cannabis production. 

Feeding Your Green Giants: Choosing the Right Nutrient Provider

Large-scale outdoor cannabis cultivation requires a strategic approach to plant nutrition. The right nutrients, delivered at the appropriate stages of growth, are essential for maximizing yields and ensuring the quality of your final product. But with a multitude of nutrient companies vying for your attention, choosing the dependable provider that aligns perfectly with your needs can be a daunting task.

Here's where Kalix CPN steps in. We're more than just a nutrient company; we're your trusted partner in the journey from seed to harvest. We understand the unique challenges and opportunities presented by cannabis cultivation on all fronts. Our team of experienced professionals possesses a deep understanding of cannabis plant nutrition and the specific demands of large scale operations.

Kalix CPN offers a comprehensive range of premium plant nutrients designed to optimize the growth and Profile of your indoor or outdoor cannabis crop. From essential macro and micronutrients to organic bio-stimulants, we provide everything your plants need to thrive in the natural environment. Our focus on quality and sustainability ensures you receive the most effective and environmentally friendly options available.

We have our in house lab that can analyze water samples, soil samples, leaf tissue samples and even your current fertilizer regiment to tell you exactly what's going into your plants and what they may be deficient in, so that we can work with you to address and correct any problems before it's too late.

But Kalix CPN goes beyond just products. We offer unparalleled customer service. Our team is here to walk you through the entire growing cycle, providing expert advice and guidance on nutrient selection, application schedules, and addressing any challenges you may encounter. We believe in building long-term relationships with our customers, and our success is intricately linked to yours.

No matter where in the world you cultivate your cannabis, Kalix CPN is your reliable source of plant nutrition. Our products are formulated to deliver the best gains for your dollar, maximizing yields and ensuring your cannabis farm reaches its full potential.

Reaping the Rewards: From Harvest to Market

The culmination of your efforts arrives with harvesting. Here are some key considerations to ensure a successful harvest and top-quality cannabis flower:

  • Be Ready to Dry: Being prepared for harvest is very important. There is no worse feeling for a farmer that fear of losing a crop and if you harvest with out space to dry and a plan to do so, you risk losing everything you've worked for. Consider humidity control and proper air flow in your drying barn. Depending on your climate at the time of harvest, you may need to invest in some large dehumidifiers and fans to get the job done in an appropriate amount of time. You can use fancy tools to check the moisture level of your flowers or a rule of thumb amongst the initiated is to bend the stems. When they snap instead of bend, it's time to take'm down.
  • The Art of Curing: Cannabis flower needs proper drying and curing to reach its full potential in terms of flavor, aroma, and potency. A proper drying facility is the first step in curing your buds efficiently. Storage is the next part of getting a nice cure to your buds. There are companies out there that have designed storage bins that will allow you to easily open and close and adjust the gas exchange to preserve the quality of your harvest. 27 Gallon storage bins work just fine though and they are stackable. I'll write more on Curing in another article. 
  • Trimming Techniques: After drying and curing, trimming removes excess sugar leaves from the flower buds. This process enhances the visual appeal and overall quality of your product. Designate specific areas for trimming to ensure efficiency and maintain a clean work environment. This can be done mechanically or by hand. What you choose to do should be determined on your needs in the market and resources you have available. No machine can get the level of quality out of a beautiful flower than a skilled trimmer though. That human touch really can give your product an appeal you won't get from a machine.
  • Post-Harvest Handling: Proper storage and transportation are essential to maintain the freshness and quality of your harvested cannabis. Your state may have regulations on how you are to package your product for bulk sale or you may be using your product to create other specialized products, like joints or extracts. Packaging according to your needs will need to be entirely up to your unique situation and place in the market. 

Navigating the Testing Maze: Understanding Requirements

Before your beautiful outdoor cannabis buds hit the shelves, they must undergo rigorous testing to ensure consumer safety and compliance with state regulations. Specific testing requirements vary by state, but generally include:

  • Potency Analysis: This measures the levels of cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids present in your flower.
  • Residual Solvents: Testing ensures no harmful solvents used during processing remain on the final product.
  • Pesticides: Tests identify and quantify any pesticide residue to ensure consumer safety.
  • Microbial Contaminants: Testing detects the presence of harmful bacteria, mold, or mildew.
  • Heavy Metals: Analysis ensures your cannabis is free from harmful heavy metals that can accumulate from soil or environmental factors.

Partnering with a state-licensed testing laboratory is crucial. Labs provide the necessary expertise and equipment to conduct these thorough analyses. Understanding testing requirements and factoring in testing costs is essential when planning your overall budget and sales strategy. Remember, passing all mandated tests is a non-negotiable prerequisite for selling your outdoor cannabis legally.

The Unsung Heroes: Administrative and Regulatory Considerations

Large-scale outdoor cannabis cultivation may seem like a bucolic dream, but navigating the legalities and maintaining compliance requires a meticulous and professional approach. Here, we delve into the administrative and regulatory considerations that are the unsung heroes of a successful cannabis operation.

  • Compliance is King: In the world of cannabis cultivation, adherence to state and local regulations is paramount. Treat compliance not as a burden but as a vital aspect of operating a legitimate and successful business. Familiarize yourself with all relevant regulations, including licensing requirements, testing standards, and labeling procedures. Develop a quality assurance program to ensure your cannabis consistently meets all testing requirements and quality standards. Remember, a reputation for consistent quality is a powerful asset in the competitive cannabis market.
  • Fort Knox for Flowers: Security Measures: Cannabis is a valuable commodity, and protecting your crop is essential. Implement comprehensive security measures to deter theft, vandalism, and unauthorized access. Consider these strategies:
    • **Fencing:**  Secure your entire cultivation area with a sturdy fence.
    • **Security Cameras:**  Install a robust network of security cameras with night vision capabilities to monitor your property 24/7.
    • **Access Control:**  Restrict access points and implement a secure entry system with keycard or code access.
    • **Security Personnel:**  Consider hiring on-site security guards, especially during critical stages of growth and harvest.
Knowledge is Power: Staff Training

Your staff is the backbone of your operation. Investing in comprehensive staff training ensures they possess the knowledge and skills necessary to cultivate high-quality cannabis and operate within legal guidelines. Training should cover:

  • Cultivation Best Practices:  Equip your staff with the knowledge to implement proper planting, irrigation, nutrient management, and pest control techniques.
  • Safety Protocols: Safety is paramount.  Train your staff on proper handling of equipment, hazardous materials, and emergency procedures.
  • Regulations and Compliance: Ensure your staff understands all relevant regulations and their role in maintaining compliance.
  • Quality Control Procedures:  Train your staff on proper harvesting, drying, curing, trimming, and storage techniques to ensure consistent product quality.
Treading Lightly: Waste Management

Large-scale cultivation generates plant waste and other materials. Developing a plan for environmentally responsible disposal demonstrates your commitment to sustainability. Here are some options:

  • Composting:  Compost suitable plant waste to create nutrient-rich soil amendments for future crops.
  • Anaerobic Digestion:  Consider exploring anaerobic digestion facilities that convert plant waste into biogas, a renewable energy source.
  • Recycling: Recycle any paper, plastic, or other non-plant-based materials generated during your operation.
Paper Trail Power: Record Keeping

Maintaining meticulous records is crucial for any legal business, and cannabis cultivation is no exception. Detailed records not only ensure transparency but also demonstrate compliance during potential audits. Here's what to track:

  • Planting Records: Document planting dates, strain types, quantities, and location of each plant.
  • Harvest Records: Record harvest dates, quantities harvested from each location, and any relevant yield data.
  • Processing Records:  Track processing activities, including trimming, drying, and curing procedures.
  • Testing Results: Maintain copies of all psychoactive compound (THC, etc..) testing results from certified laboratories.
  • Sales Records:  Document all sales transactions, including quantities sold and any relevant customer information (within privacy regulations).

By prioritizing these administrative and regulatory considerations, you establish a strong foundation for a successful and sustainable outdoor cannabis operation. Remember, a commitment to compliance, security, staff training, responsible waste management, and meticulous record keeping demonstrates professionalism and ensures the long-term viability of your cannabis business. In the exciting world of legal cannabis cultivation, knowledge truly is power.

The Harvest is In: Selling Your Outdoor Cannabis Bounty

Cultivating a thriving crop of outdoor cannabis is only half the battle. Once your harvest is complete, you need a well-defined sales strategy to turn those beautiful buds into profit. While the price point for outdoor flower typically falls below indoor cannabis due to market perception and potential inconsistencies, outdoor cultivation offers a distinct advantage: volume. Here, we explore various avenues for selling your outdoor-grown cannabis:

  • Distributors and Wholesalers: Partnering with established distributors or wholesalers allows you to reach a wider audience of retailers. Distributors handle the logistics of transporting and delivering your product to dispensaries, taking that burden off your shoulders. However, be prepared to negotiate competitive pricing to entice distributors in a crowded market.

  • Processors and Manufacturers: The world of cannabis extends far beyond flower. Consider partnering with processors or manufacturers who specialize in creating various cannabis products, such as:

    • Concentrates: Processors can transform your outdoor flower into high-potency concentrates like shatter, budder, or live resin, potentially fetching a premium price.
    • Edibles: Manufacturers can use your outdoor flower to produce a variety of cannabis-infused edibles, such as gummies, chocolates, or baked goods.
    • Topicals: Topical producers can incorporate your flower into salves, lotions, or transdermal patches for targeted pain relief or skincare benefits.

By partnering with processors and manufacturers, you unlock new markets for your outdoor cannabis and potentially increase your profit margins.

  • Direct Sales (where legal): Some states allow licensed cultivators to sell directly to consumers. This can be achieved through on-site dispensaries or farm-to-table delivery services (where regulations permit). Direct sales offer the highest potential profit margins but require additional licensing and compliance measures.

Quantity with Quality: A Balancing Act

While outdoor flower may fetch a lower price point than meticulously controlled indoor crops, it doesn't have to be synonymous with sacrificing quality. By employing best practices throughout the cultivation process, from selecting high-yielding strains to implementing proper drying and curing techniques, you can cultivate potent and flavorful outdoor cannabis that rivals its indoor counterparts. Remember, outdoor cultivation allows you to leverage economies of scale, producing larger quantities of quality flower to meet market demands.

Ultimately, the success of your sales strategy hinges on understanding your target market and tailoring your product offerings accordingly. Embrace the unique advantages of outdoor cultivation – volume and affordability – while maintaining a commitment to quality and consistency. By building strong relationships with distributors, processors, or even exploring direct sales avenues (where legal), you can transform your outdoor harvest into a thriving cannabis business.

Conclusion: Cultivating Your Cannabis Dream

Outdoor cannabis cultivation offers a unique opportunity to blend the joy of agriculture with the potential of a thriving business. However, this exciting venture requires meticulous planning, a deep understanding of best practices, and unwavering commitment to compliance within a complex legal landscape.

This article series has provided a foundational framework to guide you on your cannabis cultivation journey. Remember, this is just the beginning. Future articles will delve deeper into specific aspects like nutrient management, pest control strategies, harvesting techniques, and the intricacies of the cannabis curing process.

As you embark on this adventure, embrace the continuous learning mindset. Cannabis cultivation is a dynamic field, with new research and best practices emerging all the time. Stay curious, connect with experienced growers, and never stop seeking knowledge.

Ultimately, success in the cannabis industry hinges on a passion for the plant, a commitment to quality and sustainability, and a respect for the regulations that govern this dynamic market. With dedication, hard work, and the knowledge gleaned from this series, I believe you can cultivate your cannabis dream and contribute to the burgeoning legal cannabis landscape in the US.



Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published