James Lowe was instrumental in the evolution of the cannabis industry from its early years in Colorado. We caught up with the co-founder of MJardin—from his home in Charleston, South Carolina—to chat about where the industry started, and where it’s heading. From what strains are hitting the shelves, to an age-old growing debate (for the record, Lowe firmly believes cultivation is a science, not an art, we’re always curious to hear what’s coming next for this growing guru.
James Lowe co-founded and served as President of Cultivation for MJardin from 2014 to 2017, while scaling it be one of the largest advisory cannabis cultivators in the world. Today MJardin operates in three provinces across Canada, cultivating some amazing strains including BLLRDR, which will be available in Ontario this fall! Check out Forbes article “5 Probing Questions For BLLRDR Cannabis And Jef Tek” here.
James founded and operates Cloud 9 Support, LLC, a horticulture supply firm. In 2015, he co-founded and still serves as managing partner for Potco, LLC, a medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation brand, and in 2016 founded Next1 Labs, currently the largest provider of high terpene/live resin oils in the state of Colorado. In addition, James has been employed as head of cultivation for Cannabis for Health and as a cultivation advisor to LightShade Labs.
Can you tell us about your career path? Why cannabis?
I went to school at Appalachian State University for solar technology with a business minor. As a course requirement I took an internship position at a renewable energy company in Colorado. I spent six years at that company where I eventually became VP. My day to day was doing design oversight for solar projects working closely with the architects and engineers. 2008/ 2009 cannabis started popping off in Colorado. Dispensaries and grows were forced to merge and have shotgun marriages, and Colorado very quickly had to vertically integrate. This put everyone in the position of having 15-18 months to be in a properly zoned facility, permitted, inspected and licensed. I remember walking into some warehouses and there were bunches of extension cords, 2 feet thick, long cables across the warehouse- not compliant at all. So I took the same architects and engineers I was working with and had them start designing grow facilities. At the time, people were terrified to have their grows put on paper and have inspectors come through- they said it was legal but was it really? We led these people through the process with lots of hand holding. In the following two years we built and licensed 45 grow facilities. After we managed the licensing and design and construction process, it naturally evolved into the opportunity to operate. Quickly we were managing 15 different grow facilities around Denver. It still wasn’t very sophisticated- mostly mom and pop situations. We were actually employees of 15 different spots getting 15 different W2s- it was a fucking nightmare but it was worth it. In 2014, one of the owners of the grows I was working at saw what I was doing and thought it was a good business. So we partnered and raised a couple million dollars and created MJardin. My previous contracts kind of rolled into MJardin and we quickly grew to be national- managing 35 facilities from Hawaii to Vermont.
Please tell me about your company? What do you do that’s different, therefore better than your competition?
I have a hard time saying it is better but we always knew the bubble was going to burst in Canada so we didn’t adopt any horticulture practices that didn’t already exist. We never did rotary gardens or vertical walls. We always took a slower pragmatic approach to cultivation- we don’t pay attention to hippy voodoo. At the time and still to this day, the cultivation side is riddled with crazy products, 22 part nutrient products, the latest and greatest liquids and gadgets, all this bullshit that plays on the black market. We have always tried to stay away and only utilize sound practices and scientifically backed products. We keep it boring- tried and true.
How did you discover your green thumb?
I have just been doing it a lot longer than most. On a commercial level we have been doing it a long time and had plenty of time to make mistakes. My thumb grew to become green. A big problem with people in this industry- they don’t learn from their mistakes. Or, worse yet, mistakes were made that they can’t undo- they were made in the design and construction of the facility which could be impossible financially to redesign.
How has your opinion/ view/ use/ understanding of cannabis changed over the years?
I don’t think it has changed- just came to fruition. The cannabis industry has grown into a very normal business- compared to what it was. It is on the steady march towards normalcy. A lot more suits these days as to be expected.
What is your passion?
My kids – my two girls.
Do you have any volunteer initiatives you support/ participate in?
I am working on something that is still in the early stages- an organization to fund harbour initiatives in South Carolina to pull sunken boats out of the water. The waterways around Charleston are full of sunken boats which causes a lot of problems from pollution to causing other boats to sink from hitting them- we have seen this too often and some accidents have resulted in death- it is a big problem and a real shame.