As he prepared dozens of small capsules that will soon hold cannabis oil, Ben Wilcox reflected on his past.
After working for years at a bartender all over Juneau, Wilcox now is a co-owner of THC Alaska, a Juneau-based company that produces cannabis concentrates. THC Alaska — which also goes by the names of Top Hat Concentrates or Top Hat Cannabis — reduces marijuana plants down into a liquid and sells that version, which is more concentrated than traditional marijuana.
Wilcox firmly believes that cannabis is beneficial to society, and said the effects are often more positive than the effects of alcohol.
“I served liquor for 25 years and this is balancing my cosmic karma,” Wilcox said, smiling through the hairnet that covered his beard. “I caused hell and chaos in the world for a couple decades, now I’ll just mellow everybody out for the next few decades and hopefully by the end I’ll come back as a bunny rabbit and not a cockroach.”
‘It’s just super-efficient’
Wilcox and his wife Lacy Wilcox are co-owners of THC Alaska along with Tracy LaBarge and Chief Executive Officer John Nemeth. The company is the first of its kind in Alaska, extracting the carbon dioxide from cannabis to create the concentrated form. The cannabis oil is available both at Rainforest Farms and Fireweed Factory in Juneau, as well as in Ketchikan, Sitka and Swagway.
The oil can be consumed in multiple ways, with the most popular being “dabbing.” In this process, a small drop (or dab) of the cannabis oil is dropped on a heated-up nail, which produces a vapor that the user then inhales. THC Alaska sells its oil in a syringe for those looking to dab.
THC Alaska also offers a small cylindrical device that has a battery that heats up a piece of ceramic, which then heats a small amount of oil in the cylinder. Then the consumer can take a quick puff of the vapor, getting a quick high without very much smell or any smoke.
Traditional, marijuana buds — known as flowers — usually have a potency of between 15 and 25 percent THC, Nemeth said. Concentrates usually range from 50 to 75 percent THC or more, he said. Basically, concentrates get the job done much quicker — a high for someone short on time.
“I don’t consider it being stronger, I just consider it more efficient,” Nemeth said. “Instead of sitting back and smoking a joint, it’s time-consuming to roll a joint, it’s also smelly to smoke a joint, it also takes forever to smoke a joint. Instead of smoking a joint, you could pull this out of your pocket, take a couple of puffs of it. It doesn’t smell, or very minimally smells, and it’s just super-efficient.”
The use of concentrates is rapidly increasing, particularly among customers 55 years old and above. It offers an alternative to pain pills, Wilcox explained, and Nemeth said it also offers the older users a chance to get the benefits and high of marijuana without having to smoke. Overall, the use of concentrates is increasing because of the decrease in smoking, Nemeth said.
Behind the scenes
Nemeth has encountered people who are a bit hesitant to use concentrates, and others who picture the production of the oil as a setup resembling “Breaking Bad,” a show about methamphetamine producers. In the THC Alaska warehouse, nothing looks much different from any other marijuana production facility.
The 3,000-square foot warehouse on Industrial Boulevard has a 1,600-square foot grow room that currently has 108 plants and five different strains. A small staff, which also includes Head Cultivator Naomi Hamb and cultivator Kevin Doyle, cares for and trims the plants.
The flowers are then ground down into a fine powder before going into a machine that extracts the carbon dioxide, then turns the gas into a liquid and eventually produces an amber-colored oil. This process usually takes between four and six hours, Nemeth said. The oil is then packaged either in a syringe for dabbing or in the battery-powered cylinder.
Often, THC Alaska is taking a cultivator’s plant trimmings and producing the oil for them. For example, Rainforest Farms will send THC Alaska some of its trimmings and THC Alaska will reduce it to a concentrate and sell it back to Rainforest Farms. THC Alaska is also making concentrates from its own plants.
The company has a storefront leased downtown, located on Franklin Street across from the Baranof Hotel. That store opening is still a little ways off, but THC Alaska is still getting its products in enough stores to get off to a good start.
Nemeth said the State of Alaska has been easy to work with and very accommodating, though there are still regulations against using other parts of the plant. Nemeth said the company hopes to continue finding ways to use the whole plant, just as it’s now doing with the oil production.
“There’s, I think, a ton of potential for people to make an endless array of products out of the plant,” Nemeth said. “It’s a very versatile, useful plant. That day will come.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.