Grower Stories #36: Tom Stevenson
Tom Stevenson, CEO of Colorado-Based Cannabis Wholesaler, Opens Up About the Cannabis Industry, THC Levels, and the State of the Cannabis Industry
We talk with Tom Stevenson, CEO of Colorado’s Bonsai Cultivation, about their expertly-grown, top-notch cannabis products in the Centennial State.
Tia (AskGrowers) : How did you guys start Bonsai Cultivation? Tell us your origin story!
Tom Stevenson : The founders were in the Colorado medical marijuana industry since its inception and in 2014 Colorado voted to become a recreational legal state. We collaborated with a few other industry friends and decided that cultivation was our expertise and we wanted to build and operate a large state-of-the-art cultivation facility in Denver and serve the recreational consumers.
Tia : Were there any hesitant or skeptical moments when starting the brand?
Tom : 2014-2016 had a lot of political considerations that were on our radar the whole time. We had Jeff Sessions overturning positive cannabis movements and there were serious threats to operations our size from the federal government.
Tia : What is your personal cannabis consumption routine - do you consume cannabis yourself, what products, THC/ CBD? Does it affect your work/ life?
Tom : I smoked pot all of highschool and college and went to the University of Colorado, Boulder, and was blown away with what real weed was like. Colorado has always had some of the best flowers around. But, honestly, I no longer really consume cannabis. If I do, it’s at a concert or a fun event later in the night.
Tia : In your website’s “About” section, you guys say, “We are passionate about producing the highest quality cannabis for the most discerning dispensaries and customers.” What’s your process to produce high-quality cannabis products?
Tom : It starts with being very selective about our genetics and then running top of the line, high-quality nutrients, and then a proper dry and cure process. The hand trim is the final ode to the consumer. Our whole team really cares and is passionate about the cannabis they produce.
Tia : Do you think customers should be looking for strains with super high THC levels or something more balanced?
Tom : THC has been so blown out of proportion and has become the only selling factor at the retail level. This stems from bad consumer education. As industry professionals, we need to teach people what is best for them by talking about terpenes and other cannabinoids in the products and how they affect your experience. Shopping based on THC forces people to inflate their THC values, which ends up creating a fictional story that all flower is 25-30 percent THC, when it most certainly is not.
Tia : How do cannabis consumers benefit from using naturally-grown, pesticide-free cannabis products?
Tom : I have always grown commercially with high-end nutrients. For years I used Canna and had great experiences in both competitions and with the high-end consumers. I have since switched to RX Green Technologies and have run that line for the last four years. Every time I try to switch to salts or other products, the learning curve to get to yield and quality standards ends up costing the business more in production than the savings switching to salts would have been. I like to keep it simple for my team. Run a good quality product that is easy to feed and you get the best-finished product in the end.
Tia : What's your favorite strain? Which one would you recommend for cannabis beginners?
Tom : We have a rare strain called Rotten Cherries, a GMO X Cherry Tropicana Cookies that is a gorgeous hitter, but due to the GMO, tests consistently around 28 percent, so maybe not ideal for a novice. But our regular Cherry Tropicana is beautiful and smells incredible and has the purple and orange that just pops. This only tests around 16 percent and would be perfect for someone trying to see if they like flowers.
Tia : Some people argue that a balanced THC level is the key to success. Do you agree or disagree with that?
Tom : I would say a balanced amount of THC and terpenes will do the job. Terps really add to the effect. Both taste and smell are so important to the experience.
Tia : What do you think is the most common mistake that new companies make when it comes to their brand?
Tom : Trying to be too cute or creative with the name. Think about all the names out there and look at their logos and see what has survived the ages.
Tia : How have you guys changed/evolved with the ever-changing cannabis industry?
Tom : We attempted to be the largest pre-roll provider in Colorado and we succeeded. We ended up producing and selling 100,000 pre-rolls a month. We later stopped our pre-roll lines and realized that we had over-complicated our business. It was so much work and required so much labor to pull that off that. It became too big of a beast to manage. It was huge for our brand though. Now it’s easier to keep our eye on the prize being a leaner operation. Focus on our flower production and the rest will follow.
Tia : If you could have a chance to smoke with anyone, living or dead, who would that be and why?
Tom : I’m a huge Phish Phan and even though both Trey and myself don’t smoke these days, I would love to have a good session with him and just share in the joy he and the boys have brought me over the years.
Tia : How does Bonsai Cultivation maintain transparency in its product line from seed to sale?
Tom : We run a clean facility and we test every single batch for microbial contaminants. We hold off on claiming process validation for micros to be totally transparent about our products CFU counts. We were burned once before and we have decided that we would course correct and preserve the brand reputation.
Tia : Where do you hope to see Bonsai Cultivation in the next five to ten years?
Tom : While it sounds sexy to say we will be in other states, we love the market in Colorado. We are expanding our current indoor footprint and we have plans to build a large greenhouse. We love the cultivation side of the industry and we are great at it, so we will probably stick to that sector of the industry.
Tia : Are there any brands you appreciate and follow?
Tom : I have always been a huge fan of Veritas. I’m good friends with one of their owners, Mike, and they grow the best commercial flower in Colorado. I still am a huge fan of the Clinic. It’s where I started and I spent seven years getting that brand going as well.
Tia : What's next for Bonsai Cultivation? Can you tell us about your next big release?
Tom : We have some collaborations with a few extractors that could be pretty exciting. No official announcement yet.
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