Inside The Marijuana Laboratory That Makes Weed...Everything
Bad experiences with weed-infused edibles are a dime a dozen (just ask Maureen Dowd), but Dixie Elixirs, a Colorado-based company, is set on rewriting that narrative. The five-year-old research lab which also grows, produces, and packages a variety of THC-infused products—from soda to bath salts—is going stronger than ever and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Recently, we were invited to tour Dixie’s 27,000-square-foot headquarters that sits just outside of downtown Denver. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity.
Dixie Elixirs was established in 2010, when Colorado's medical cannabis industry was booming. Today, the company employs 40 people and has expanded its line from the original Elixirs to topicals, chocolates, and even mints. Though Dixie specializes in medicinal products, it aims to produce something for everyone, from a first time user, to a sore athlete, to that guy who won’t shut up about his dab rig.
Before getting anywhere near the product, the receptionist has to buzz you in. In addition to signing in and taking a quick mug shot, you need a government-issued ID to get past reception.
“The security procedures that we have in place exceed what is required by our Colorado regulators,” explained Sy Alli, Dixie Elixirs’ director of corporate security. Intentionally designed to resemble any small to midsize pharmaceutical firm, there are eyes constantly on you as you navigate the grounds. Considering all the hi-tech equipment the company’s invested in, and the fact that there aren’t many Marijuana-Infused Product licenses in the state (which are required for edible production), the extra precautions make sense.
Though Dixie Elixirs prides itself on a clean, streamlined aesthetic and smart business practices, the overall vibe of the company remains fun. This is the lounge, where everything from Bagel Tuesdays to the bowling league award ceremony goes down. Dixie’s CEO and founder Tripp Keber has an office overlooking the room, so he never feels removed. Keber is a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur, having dabbled and invested in a lot of different industries before getting into the cannabis business.
Once you get past another set of locked doors, the pungent smell of weed immediately hits. Dixie Elixirs is vertically integrated—meaning it does everything from seed to sale—so they have a grow operation on site. Since the company is in the edible business, it's not interested in quality bud, and typically trades the flower of the plant (which is what people smoke) for trim (which no one should smoke, but is just as good for THC-infused products).
Trim, like the pound pictured, is the lifeblood of the entire operation.
What sets Dixie Elixirs apart from its competitors, other than its product line, is the amount of money the business has invested in a state of the art setup. The company uses a CO2-based extraction process—versus the cheaper butane extraction—and has three machines, which cost upwards of a $100,000, that use pressure to extract THC from trim.
If this part of the operation resembles a lab, that’s because it is. Dixie employee Shellene Suemori used to work at NASA and now is an in-house researcher, focusing on the synergetic effects of cannabinoids. Since marijuana was considered a Schedule 1 drug for so long (and still is in most states), medical research was stagnant, and there’s a lot we still don’t know about the plant’s properties.
What you’re looking at here is concentrated oil, which is the base of all of Dixie’s products. R&D is tasked with determining the appropriate dosage, which is especially important in light of Colorado’s new packaging requirements surrounding edibles: wrapping must be child-resistant and the product appropriately portioned. For first time users, the new edict should put them at ease.
Here we arrive at the spic-and-span culinary school kitchen, with a handful of folks turning cannabis into sodas, breath mints, truffles, lotion, Tootsie Rolls, fudge, you name it—as long as it’s not baked. When asked about the irony, Marketing Coordinator Lily Colley responded, “We’re trying to get away from that brownie everyone’s had a bad experience with.”
Jaymie Giordano co-heads the kitchen with Mitch Stowell. When she initially graduated from culinary school, Giordano wanted to be a cake decorator. She’s been at Dixie just over a year and loves her job. When I asked her what her favorite product was, Giordano was quick to answer, “Topicals are the best.” Women, who have more mucus membrane—thus allowing them to absorb topicals better than men—especially like the bath salts. Topicals don’t have any psychoactive properties, but the injured can use them to heal and others simply to relax.
Here's the Synergy line, which combines THC with CBD, another part of the marijuana plant. “The suite of cannabinoids is what works,” explained Colley, after I asked why the Synergy line was so popular. That suite produces a no-psychosis high, with calming, holistic effects (apparently it's good for hangovers too).
Each one of these seasonal White Chocolate Peppermint squares has 10 mg of THC. When Colorado introduced the new dosage and packaging requirements, Dixie was active in the conversation. And as the company looks to expand into Oregon and California, that kind of business acumen should serve them quite well.
Kiran Herbert is a Thrillist Media Group alum and Denver-based writer. She once had a very scarring experience with a chocolate chip cookie. Ask her all about it on Twitter: @KiranHerbert.