If there is anything Las Vegas has learned during two years of legalized medical marijuana, it’s that the cannabis business is far from the old hippie stereotype. The technology in the grows, the innovation in the products, the security in the dispensaries, the sophistication of the brands—all are taking the industry to the next level. And getting in on all those levels is Reef Dispensaries, whose facility off the Strip combines cultivation, production and sales under one roof.
“My family’s pretty conservative, so they thought I was crazy, that I was becoming a drug dealer.”–Matt Morgan, Reef CEO
It’s a vertically integrated model; from the first green shoots sprouting through soil to the quarter-ounce of Riff Raff Red Carpet Kush that a customer carries out the door, the whole process happens within the 165,000-square-foot facility. “From seed to end user takes [about] 14 weeks,” explains Reef CEO Matt Morgan. “You’ve got germ[ination], you’ve got veg, you’ve got flower, you’ve got harvest, cure, trim, packaging.”
It’s a little different from when Morgan worked on his grandfather’s farm. “I’m a farm kid out of Montana. And I ended up with industrial farming, manufacturing, on the Strip in Las Vegas,” he says. In 2008, he recalls, “I felt cannabis was gonna be the next big boom. My family’s pretty conservative, so they thought I was crazy, that I was becoming a drug dealer.” After experimenting with growing in Montana, he moved to Arizona and started a chain of hydroponic stores there, which led to him getting into the dispensary business in that state. Eventually, Morgan made his way to Las Vegas. He and a partner founded Reef Dispensaries/Tryke Companies in March 2014; they now have six facilities in Nevada and Arizona, with another opening in Reno later this month.
Inside Reef’s off-Strip building, jumpsuited employees walk down white, door-lined hallways. Beside each door, computer screens glow, giving readouts of CO2 levels, temperature and water/light schedules, all of which vary depending on the plant’s growth stage and sometimes even the specific strain. Every room has its own reservoir where “water is chilled to the optimum temperature for the plants to uptake as many nutrients as possible,” says Morgan, who also points out a hanging monitor that feeds data to the computers. There are rooms full of tiny seedlings dotting enormous trays, vast spaces full of larger potted plants, junglelike areas with two levels of plants beneath near-blinding lights.
Another room is full of nearly mature plants, heavy buds dotted with chartreuse trichomes, bending stalks and giving off a heavy, sweet odor. It’s Reef Dispensaries’ most popular product: Khalifa Kush. Reef is the exclusive Arizona/Nevada cultivator of Wiz Khalifa’s celebrated strain. “We work very closely with Wiz and [rapper] Berner—I don’t know if I could pick a better fit for this space right now,” Morgan says, explaining that Berner, whose Exotikz line they also grow, connected them with Wiz. “[Berner] is a [cannabis] tastemaker,” Morgan says. “He finds something he likes. He’s really good friends with all these rappers, and pretty soon, they’re all rapping about it. He picked a strain called Girl Scout Cookies. … He made it almost a household name.”
Another set of buzzer doors and another white hallway lead to the production area, where plants are processed and turned into everything from pre-rolled joints and individually packaged quarter-ounces to shatter and wax. “Our cannabis market starts as very flower-driven,” says Morgan, adding that “as the market matures … you [will] see a lot more of the topicals, the creams, the bath balms, the edibles, the vape pens. Stuff that’s [more] discreet.”
“Can you imagine Brad Pitt going on a red carpet with a big blunt? I don’t know if it’s that socially acceptable yet.”
The dispensary area is a large room painted aquatic blue and enlivened with cannabis-inspired artwork; wood counters display product in tidy rows. Morgan notes that Wiz Khalifa and Berner have brought in other “celebrities and actors [who] all come shop here when they come to Vegas.” Cannabis aficionados spread well beyond hip-hop—the Reef also saw some big names when the Country Music Awards were in town. Will they be taking on other celebrity strains? “I get approached every week by someone famous who wants to monetize their name and their brand into cannabis,” says Morgan, who notes that interest has spread from musicians into other creative fields. “They’re just discreet about it because they have a different image to uphold. Can you imagine Brad Pitt going on a red carpet with a big blunt? I don’t know if it’s that socially acceptable yet.”
But bringing that kind of acceptability to cannabis, both as a business and a lifestyle, is part of Reef Dispensaries’ mission. “We’re still teetering on the edge, you know,” says Morgan. “We’re trying to create a brand that could take something that’s very taboo and flip it into a mainstream. That’s our goal.”
Adult recreational marijuana sales are set to begin at midnight on July 1. Dispensaries that have received rec licenses (including Reef) will be able to sell their medical inventory to recreational customers. However, the rec distribution suit is still going through the courts and sales could be interrupted if it isn’t resolved by the time medical inventory runs out. Our advice? Go early, stock up and check the Vegas Seven cannabis channel as well as @thechroniclenv for updates.