In the Weed Part I: Green Means Go

Article Originally found at SBJ.

The medical marijuana industry is budding in Missouri and there’s hundreds of companies wanting to make an impact.

One of those is Heartland Enterprises LLC, dba Heartland Labs. It’s a Buffalo-based, family-owned operation that’s just started the manufacturing of cannabis-infused products for distribution to dispensaries across the state. Springfield Business Journal is documenting the early steps of Heartland Labs as production ramps up. This is a multipart series, called In the Weed.

The family venture at 1794 S. Ash St. received the green light in February from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to begin manufacturing. Michael Pearcy, managing partner, leads the company with the help of his children: daughter Maddi, who is director of operations, and son Hayden, who serves as lab director.

That followed the state’s Dec. 30 commencement inspection of the facility. It wasn’t the first infused-product manufacturer to get state approval, as that distinction was in December to Kansas City-based Clovr. However, Heartland Labs is still in fairly small company.

As of press time, only eight manufacturing facilities in the state had been approved to operate, according to DHSS data.

“In that moment, everybody got to take a deep breath and really appreciate all of this hard work we’re about to be able to see pay off,” Maddi Pearcy said upon the company getting approved to operate.

The state’s 368 active licensed or certified dispensary, cultivation, testing, transportation and infused-product manufacturing facilities require a commencement inspection from DHSS. As of March 26, 179 have requested an inspection and 106 of those were approved to operate. The remainder are either in progress or have been set aside for further review after the state determined the facility was not ready.

Heartland Labs originally received the “set aside” designation after a DHSS review of the company’s paperwork Jan. 5 revealed an issue with a couple of the facility’s security cameras, said Michael Pearcy.

He said the two cameras were in an extraction booth, which is used to extract cannabinoids from cannabis, and didn’t fit within the Class 1, Division 1 classification set forth by the National Fire Protection Agency.

“They were not C1D1 and that was an oversight on our part and the state pointed that out. We had to reorder new cameras for that area to ensure isolation C1D1 qualification,” he said, adding they cost $4,000.

Michael Pearcy said that was the only issue that prevented passing the commencement inspection.

“It took a little bit of time to get the cameras ordered, installed, calibrated and linked to our security system,” he said, noting the process was around 15 days.

Let’s commence
Prior to the camera issue, the Pearcys say they were cautiously optimistic about how their 6,000-square-foot facility would rate during the state inspection. The family declined to disclose startup costs.

“Whenever we were waiting on the approval for the new camera installations, we were anxious and optimistic at the same time,” Michael Pearcy said. “Everyone here was just chomping at the bit.”

Maddi Pearcy said receiving the approval letter from the state Feb. 17 was “a great day.”

“Everyone on our staff, from our kitchen crew and our extraction techs, everybody was genuinely excited to get going and really just start making a difference for the patients,” she said.

The Pearcy siblings have transitioned into the medical marijuana industry after finishing college in 2019 – Maddie at Drury University, and Hayden at Missouri State University.

Aside from the camera-related delay, Heartland Labs also has dealt with the low product supply of cannabis flower, an issue which has plagued the state’s new industry since its launch last year. At press time, only 17 out of 60 cultivation facilities licensed by the state have been approved to operate.

“We contacted every single grower in the state. That’s just how it was,” Michael Pearcy said of the low supply, declining to estimate cost delays to the company. “That carried on even after we got our letter to operate.”

Marching on
As more cultivation sites come online, the supply chain issues are less problematic, he said, adding Heartland Labs has a supply contract with Flora Farms, which operates a cultivation facility in Humansville and dispensaries in Neosho and Springfield.

“They’ve had delays of their own, which is just part of the business,” Michael Pearcy said of Flora Farms. “They refuse to put any products out there that weren’t top shelf. That’s the same vision we have.”

The product line at Heartland Labs is rolling out at several Springfield area dispensaries, including Old Route 66 Wellness LLC, Flora Farms, Missouri Joint Ventures LLC and Easy Mountain Cannabis Co. Products include edibles, such as cookies and chocolate bars, cannabis-infused honey and three flavors of gummies: orange, strawberry and black cherry.

Its products are being tested by Green Precision Analytics, a Kansas City-based licensed medical marijuana testing facility, said Maddie Pearcy.

“They walk into our vault where we store all our infused products and pick from those ready to go to the dispensaries,” she said, noting the samples are chosen at random.

Testing started in late March and samples are typically taking up to three days for approval, she said.

“They’ll probably be coming down twice a week for products, maybe three times a week, as we ramp up production,” Michael Pearcy said.

Running a new company in a burgeoning industry, the Pearcys acknowledge growing pains and learning lessons are sure to follow.

“This has been such a growing process for all of us in so many ways,” Maddi Pearcy said. “Whether it’s learning about cannabis, about the needs of the patients and learning how to work together as a family, I’m just so proud.”