Danny Sloat: Self-Healing Through Clean Cannabis Cultivation

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Danny Sloat is the owner of Alpinstash, a Colorado cannabis cultivator known for producing premium-quality cannabis with an emphasis on environmentally friendly growing practices.

In this Ganjapreneur.com podcast episode, Danny joins our host TG Branfalt to talk about his company’s emphasis on an eco-friendly production process, the therapeutic value of growing your own cannabis plants, exciting research and cannabis cloning techniques that are being pioneered in Colorado, how the state’s cannabis marketplace has evolved over the years since legalization took effect, and more!

Listen to the podcast through the media player below, or keep scrolling down to read a full transcript of the interview.

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Read the transcript:

TG Branfalt: Hey there. I’m your host, TG Branfalt, and you’re listening to the Ganjapreneur.com podcast where we try to bring you actionable information and normalize cannabis through the stories of ganjapreneurs, activists and industry stakeholders. Today I’m really excited. Our guest is Danny Sloat. He’s the owner of Alpinstash. How you doing today?

Danny Sloat: I’m doing real good, Tim, how you doing?

TG Branfalt: I’m great. Like I said, I’m real excited to have you on the show. You have a really, really interesting story. A real motivational story and we want to get into that first. Why don’t you tell us about your background, a little bit about your personal story and how that brought into the cannabis space?

Danny Sloat: Yeah, definitely. Shortly after I turned 21 I had some pretty bad abdominal pain. Went to the hospital, had a stay, tests, all that good stuff. They couldn’t find out what was wrong so I was just put on a regiment of opiates. Then over the years as I still continued testing and tried to figure out what was going on, bouncing from doctor to doctor, the opiates kind of increased and before I knew it, I was taking medication to treat the side effects of the opiates and medication to treat that side effects, so on and so forth. Somewhere in there on about 2005, I developed a nerve impingement syndrome called thoracic outlet syndrome. I was dealing with that, I was dealing with loss of nerves to my arm and, again, more opiates tossed on top of that.

Then in 2009 I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, which is a non-cancerous base of skull tumor. That required surgery. From the age of 21 through about 29, I was in a medical funk in which I was prescribed high doses of opiates. I’m sure, I assume your listeners are familiar with Fetanyl. It was the new scary opiate, but I was prescribed both patches and lollipops. In my point of view, I was blindsided. I have very much faith in the medical world and just kind of did what my doctors had told me to do. Before I knew it, I was in a really bad state physically after years of opiate use and other medications. Nothing was helping and I was just getting worse.

Then I decided as a last ditch effort at the time to try medical cannabis back in 2009. Almost instantly I found relief from the pain, which allowed me to taper myself off of these opiates that I had been on for seven, eight years at that point. Within six months I was off all the medication. I was on, I think, 19 different prescriptions at the peak. Had dropped about 80 pounds, back down to a healthy weight. Reengaged with life. Doing physical activities again. I contribute both the use of cannabis, but almost more important or even more important the growing of cannabis with reengaging me back into life. Then I recognized the value that cannabis had and decided to make that my focus and here I am today.

TG Branfalt: You’re not one of those people who used cannabis recreationally as a youth and then … That’s what I did. I used cannabis as a youth and then as I grew up and the aches and pains started catching up with me, and my own medical problems, and had my own battle with addiction, I started using cannabis as a medicinal way. That wasn’t the path that you had taken.

Danny Sloat: I’m from Boulder, Colorado, so I definitely had my use of cannabis when I was younger in high school and things like that, but between high school and the age of 29, I really didn’t partake very much at all. I found myself just not enjoying it. When I actually started it for medical use I was pretty hesitant because I had some bad experiences over the past few years. I had gotten my card in September and I don’t think I tried it until December when I finally gave it a shot. Yeah.

TG Branfalt: You started with one plant?

Danny Sloat: Yeah. It’s funny, actually back then there weren’t too many dispensaries that were obvious. The first one I went to had a big neon sign and they gave away free clones with purchase. I had enjoyed doing a lot of gardening, specifically container gardening, as a hobby up until that point so I just started growing that plant. Then when I found the benefits of it, I decided to go all in and made a lot of mistakes. A huge learning curve in the beginning there.

TG Branfalt: Tell me about that. Tell me about the experience of going from one plant to now you’re a registered grower, you’re growing a lot of different products. Tell me about going from that one plant to the registered grower. Tell me about what you learned and the obstacles that you faced.

Danny Sloat: Yeah. It’s funny, as somebody that does this as a hobby and then jumping into the commercial realm, there is, and I knew there would be, a huge learning curve. I took some steps to prepare myself. I spent some time going to school for horticulture and spent some time in the hydroponic industry, all while working to make this facility a reality. There’s been some major learning curves. You really have to be on your game when you go from a home grow to a commercial grow. You have to take into account a lot of … It’s much harder to control a bigger space, there’s a lot more at stake and that’s actually been the hardest thing is when you do it for fun and you have a dream of doing it professionally there’s a romanticized version of that. When you get in it, all of a sudden now, everything matters. The plant health, even though it was fine at home, now all of a sudden you care a lot more about it because your financial future and the goal you’ve been working towards for five years is on the line.

TG Branfalt: Well, and the Colorado market, the prices in that market have fluctuated a whole lot since the roll out of the market until now. How have you been weathering that storm?

Danny Sloat: Yes. From the time we started this facility to now, the prices have dropped. In some cases even 50%, while the taxes still remain high. However, it’s been easy for me to weather the storm. The product that we grow is the top of the top shelf. There aren’t very many people that can offer the same quality product we can, so there’ll always be a market for that. The thing that we’ve dealt with though is maintaining until a point where our brand is established and we can start demanding the price that our product deserves. I guess, for us to weather the storm it was more of a long term approach. I’m not trying to get rich, I’m not trying to make money in the short term, I’m just trying to do what I love and stay around. That strategy has worked very well and now we’re seeing the emergence, even more so, of the connoisseur market. You combine that with pesticide scares and pathogen issues. We are actually in a great position.

TG Branfalt: Tell me a bit about your strains and how you came to decide that these were the ones that you were going to cultivate. These were the ones that you were going to offer.

Danny Sloat: Yeah. The way that Colorado works is there’s a system called Metrc, it’s their seed to sale tracking system. In a lot of places and at the beginning before Metrc is in place, you could bring in strains, cuts and seeds from outside sources. If you had them at home or whatever you could do that. Now and when we started that, you can’t do that. You have to get all your genetics from an already existing facility on Metrc. Given how dangerous that can be from a plant health standpoint of pulling material from unknown and untrusted sources, I was really limited to the strains that I had from the initial purchase I made that we had quarantined and gotten healthy. We picked the best there and started breeding them. Since then, we’ve taken in a few more cuts from other facilities, but it’s really, really, really been limited. My passion is in genetics and breeding, so I use that as an excuse, but as a way to focus on making my own stuff so that I don’t put my garden at risk from unclean facilities.

TG Branfalt: You offer four CBD rich strains. This is starting to become a little bit more popular out here in Vermont. We have looser laws than probably not Colorado, but a lot of the rest of the country and it’s readily available. Are you, over there in Colorado, experiencing an uptake in the demand for CBD rich strains?

Danny Sloat: Just a little bit. Those CBD rich strains are something I’m really passionate about and I really believe in their value and in their quality too. I tell people when they’re trying to drink a beer or get buzzed, they don’t go to Everclear. They want a product that delivers flavor and good feeling and all that stuff. The CBD strains is what I think is a great product. A lot of people though are really hesitant to spend their money on something that they haven’t tried, or they don’t think it gets them high, or whatever reason they have, so the popularity of the CBDs as a flower has been increasing, but very slowly.

TG Branfalt: You said that you were passionate about the CBD strains. What drives that passion for you?

Danny Sloat: First of all, they’re really fun to grow. The products are great, very flavorful, good looking. They obviously have a huge medicinal benefit, which I appreciate. The other nice thing about them that I don’t feel like gets talked about lot is that because often they have a lower THC content and because the CBD helped balance out the negative side effects that can arise with THC, they’re really great smokes for almost anybody. More often than not, when I talk to people, especially people that are my parents’ age, they talk about smoking and getting paranoid.

‘Oh, I used to love smoking, but now when I do it, I get paranoid. I take one hit of today’s stuff and I just can’t hang.’ They’re able to try one of these CBD products and they get exactly what they’re looking for from a relaxation and getting stoned perspective, but as well as the medicinal benefits that change a lot of people’s minds. Again, I go back to that Everclear analogy. I feel like that side of the industry is hurting it and is hurting the image of it for a lot of people across the country moreso than it’s enhancing it.

TG Branfalt: I want to touch on a bit more about why you think CBD rich strains are a little more fun to grow and a little more about your grows, but before we do that, we’ve got to take a short break. This is the Ganjapreneur.com podcast, I’m TG Branfalt.

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TG Branfalt: Hey, welcome back to the Ganjapreneur.com Podcast. I’m your host TG Branfalt here with Danny Sloat, owner of Alpinstash. Before the break, you had said that CBD strains were fun to grow. I’m not a grower. I have conversations with them and I’ve never really heard that so could you elaborate on why they’re fun to grow in your opinion?

Danny Sloat: Definitely. I’ll start by saying any strain that does really well, looks good and smells good is fun to grow. What I enjoy about the CBD strains, some of the ones we have, they look dank as it gets. Frosty, they smell great and they’re with great structure. Then you do a test and you come to find out that there’s almost no THC in there and it’s almost all CBD. We’re talking .5% or less of THC and 24% of CBD. I just love seeing the reaction of people that come across that. In their mind, CBDs are ditch weed or hemp. It doesn’t look like something you’d want to smoke. When you grow them, they’re quite the opposite. Some of them turn great colors, they have great structure and they yield really well. It’s always fun to grow something that turns out unexpectedly awesome and a lot of these strains do.

TG Branfalt: I was at an event here in Vermont and they had jars of CBD flower. I opened the jar and I was really shocked with the overwhelming smell of citrus.

Danny Sloat: Yeah.

TG Branfalt: Is that something very common with these strains?

Danny Sloat: Yeah. I definitely find that. They definitely have a citrusy smell. Some of them have a little bit of almost like a cough syrup citrus, too, for whatever reason. I can guess, but it would be just purely a guess. It must be a shared lineage somewhere, but the majority of CBD strains that I come across do have that smell. Not all of them do, but a lot of them do.

TG Branfalt: Tell me about your approach to growing. It’s described as environmentally responsible, eco-conscious. Tell me about that approach and how you are incorporating these techniques.

Danny Sloat: Sure. The laws in Colorado, when I started, were such that an outdoor grow was very hard to do, so we do indoors. We use Nectar for the Gods, which is a sustainably sourced, natural nutrient system that is handcrafted in Eugene, Oregon. They have the second largest rain water reclamation facility in the state, so all the water used for the making of the nutrients is rain water. Most of the nutrients come from the byproduct of organic and sustainable farms, such as bone meal or the byproduct of the fishing industry. Crab meal and shrimp meal and things like that. We start with the nutrients being environmentally sustainable and well sourced. We also use low wattage lighting techniques or lightings. I’m able to achieve what is kind of considered an industry standard for 1,000 watt light, I’m able to pull that yield off with 315 watts. Less power going in, less energy required to cool that.

We also use a type of an a/c system that is a water cooled a/c system, which is up to 30% more efficient. We recycle our soil and we reuse our pots. Because we’re using organics, we don’t have to flush and collect a bunch of water that’s been wasted. One of the biggest impacts that the growing industry has is when you have salt-based fertilizers that can cause a build up and a toxicity, you have to continually flush those out of your grow media and then you have that salt nutrient rich water that you’re pouring down the drain. That gets into the ground water, that gets into the soil. They’re having big problems with that back east.

Then another thing is the use of synthetic nutrients. Most of those synthetic salts are strip mined out of the earth in a very negative way. Sometimes they come from all over the globe. I’ll give you an example. Phosphorous, which is a main nutrient used in flowering, is strip mined out of Morocco. There’s a finite supply of phosphorous in the first place. It comes out of the ground radioactive. Morocco can’t have radioactive material so they actually send it to the U.S., where we clean it of radioactivity, send it back to Morocco where they then bag it up and then send it back to America, where we then use it. That whole process is very bad for the environment in and of itself.

TG Branfalt: You obviously did a lot of research on the environmental impacts of these things. How important was it for you to have an environmentally responsible facility and practice?

Danny Sloat: To me, that’s very environmental. Sorry. I’ll redo that one. To me, that’s very important. The place that I grew up in the country is just by nature most people are pretty eco-conscious. As time goes on and factory farming becomes more prolific, you just see the problems associated with it. I felt like our industry does create waste and does create a carbon footprint, but it doesn’t have to be anywhere near what the industry standard is. There’s a lot of good growing practices, techniques and, these days, equipment that you can use to really be as environmentally sound as you can be and still have a successful business.

TG Branfalt: You’ve mentioned a couple of times how the industry has changed in Colorado since you’ve been a part of it. Now there’s even more new rules in Colorado, such as reducing the number of plants allowed for home grows. How have these new rules impacted the industry and what was the reaction by your colleagues to these changes?

Danny Sloat: Well, I kind of go against the grain of the industry, as I see it, in a lot of ways. I, and my company, was totally for patient and caregiver rights. I don’t believe in a plant count. I don’t believe that home grows or caregivers take anything away from my business in any way. Actually, I encourage anybody to grow a plant. Not only is it therapeutic, and it’s fun to do, and you can get as clean a product as you want it to be, but you also see the effort that goes in. One of the battles we face is we have giant corporations that are growing the equivalent of factory farming cannabis and here we are, everything we do is done by hand, there’s two other people besides myself that touch the plants. We take all of the steps to deliver the finest quality product, but they’re all done by hand.

Really, for people to appreciate that, one of the things they can do is grow it. I don’t see that as an issue at all. The industry, there was a lot of lobbyists from some of the corporations that were there pushing these plant count caps. They see it as a threat to their business. I I look at it from their side, I can see where they’re coming from in a way that they’re scared that their business is at risk, because the products they deliver are achievable by almost anybody. That’s kind of the situation we’re in, but it doesn’t bother me at all.

TG Branfalt: You go against the grain on that issue. What’s your take on the social use proposals in Denver?

Danny Sloat: I’m 100% for that. I would love to see that be available. First of all, because there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Second of all, because of how available other substances like alcohol are and accepted socially. Another really important aspect is, we have tourists coming in from out of town. They can’t smoke in their hotel, they can’t smoke in their car, they can’t smoke out in public, but they’re here to enjoy Colorado. They’re here to enjoy cannabis. Where are they going? What are they doing? There should be a good option for that. It just makes sense. I can’t see why anybody’s opposed to it except for fear tactics.

TG Branfalt: I want to talk to you a bit about your partnership with Front Range. We’ll get into what that is, but before we do that, we’ve got to take a short break. This is the Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m TG Branfalt.

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TG Branfalt: Welcome back to the Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m your host, TG Branfalt, here with Danny Sloat, owner of Alpinstash. Before the break I had mentioned about your partnership with Front Range. Tell me what Front Range is, tell me about this partnership. I think it’s super cool, but I’ll let you explain it.

Danny Sloat: Sure. Front Range Biosciences is a startup bioscience tech firm. They have a few things that they’re trying to bring to the market. The first is a type of cloning known as plant tissue culture. That’s different than traditional cloning in that you take a very small piece of plant material, you essentially grow it in a Petri dish and before you put in that Petri dish you clean it and you sterilize it so that there’s no problems on the surface. One of the interesting things though is when you put plant tissue into culture, if there are any diseases within the plant, within the vascular system, those will come out in culture.

What they’re finding is that a lot of material that they bring in from other places has bacteria and fungus within the plant tissue. It still remains to be seen, there’s not a lot of research to say whether or not these are beneficial bacteria or fungus. Some of them certainly are not, but what they’re able to do is clean that out of the plant system. What you get back with plant tissue culture is a clean, healthy clone that’s been essentially sterilized and reinvigorated. That’s a great technique there, which by the way, is used in much of commercial agriculture production for many other crops.

The other thing that they’re looking at doing is some genetic and sequencing work down the future. Looking at the cannabis genome, identifying genetic traits that are responsible for certain aspects of the plant of the finished product and then being able to breed based on those genetic traits. You’re able to bring a plant to fruition much sooner and have it be much more stable. Then eventually a goal for them is to be able to do plant tissue culture, but combine that with cryo-preservation. You’d be able to take a sample of a plant tissue, put that on liquid nitrogen and essentially keep genetic material from which to clone from indefinitely in a clean state. The idea is that you could have a small freezer filled with every strain that you ever come in contact with and be able to pull those out, grow them and then put them back into storage as you need.

TG Branfalt: It’s futuristic. Cryogenics and these are things that you never think about entering the space. Why did you decide to enter into this partnership with them?

Danny Sloat: They approached us. They pitched that to me. I love science. I love seeing where the future is going. I love these new techniques. It was an exciting opportunity, not only to be able to have access to that, but just to watch it happen and be not so removed from it. How could I say no?

TG Branfalt: I see a lot and hear a lot when people bring up biosciences. People automatically think this is big pharma, these are people that are going to come in and take over the cottage industry. These partnerships are really important, especially for research, which is obviously very little of and hard to do. What do you think is the importance of these types of partnerships?

Danny Sloat: Well, I think the research is a huge key for many reasons. Anywhere from proper pest control and management, to sustainable and better growing practices, to disease diagnosis. All these things that are common place in every other crop, a tomato. There has been millions and millions of dollars in research done on tomatoes. That needs to happen in the cannabis space. Certainly, some people will use that, go towards the more GMO, Monsanto side of things. Unfortunately, I think that’s inevitable. Given the way industry runs and the way agriculture runs, some people will go that direction. From my standpoint of being just a small grow that’s trying to produce a high quality product, having access to some of these techniques can help me in the areas I’m lacking. I don’t have a huge facility in which to keep a ton of genetics. Instead, what I’m able to do is keep clones in a smaller state and keep a wider selection, so that can help me get to where I’m going.

TG Branfalt: I can tell that you’re super passionate about this and the path that you took to having your own facility and entering these partnerships that will help us understand the cannabis plant a little bit more, it’s really incredible. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to enter this space?

Danny Sloat: That’s a really good question. First off, I would say, think of what scale you want to be at and be realistic with that. I use the craft beer industry as an example of this. Here in Colorado there’s a ton of craft breweries. We also have Coors. If you want to exist as a craft brewery … Or if you want to make beer in Colorado, you can either go one of two ways. You can either be a small batch, hand crafted brewery that charges more per can than a 6 or a 12-pack of Coors. You survive because you’re great at what you do. Or if you have a billion dollars, you can be Coors. Most people don’t have that much money and even if they did, that doesn’t guarantee success. Really identify what you want to do. For people that haven’t ventured into the cannabis space, do a ton of research and know exactly what you’re getting into.

So many people come in here with a wad of money thinking I put a million in today, I’m going to get two million out next year. The realities are quite different. This is an industry that is cut throat. It’s an industry that is, in some cases, saturated. It’s an industry that has a ton of regulation and takes a ton of hard work and knowledge. Really, really spend your time researching. Spend your time vetting investments. Spend your time vetting people that will work for you. What I’ve found is the people that you employ matter so much. I’m very fortunate. My fiancee works for me and we’ve got two really close friends that work for me and that’s it. It’s a team that I trust and they’re willing to put up with the growing pains. They’re willing to give maximum effort because this is a team approach. If we all do well together, as a business, everybody succeeds. That’s really important. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of regulation, there’s a lot of hard work. You need the right people for the job and those people are hard to find in the cannabis industry.

TG Branfalt: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time for this interview. It’s really, again, your story is really motivational. I wish you guys the best of luck and hope to see what comes of your research with Front Range. Thank you, again, for appearing on the show.

Danny Sloat: Yeah. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. I really appreciate you letting me have a chance to talk about something I’m very passionate about.

TG Branfalt: Where can people find more about you?

Danny Sloat: Our website www.alpinstash.com. I have YouTube channel, Alpinstash. I give growing tips. I believe in complete transparency, so I share everything that I know. We’re on Instagram, @alpinstashco. We’re on Twitter, @alpinstash. Yeah. If anybody has any questions, they can watch my YouTube videos, they can email me, Dan@alpinstash.com. Yeah. You can find me there.

TG Branfalt: Well, Dan, thanks again for being on the Ganjapreneur.com podcast.

Danny Sloat: Yeah. Thank you so much.

TG Branfalt: You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur.com podcast in the podcast section of Ganjapreneur.com in the Apple iTunes store. On the Ganjapreneur.com website, you will find the latest cannabis news and cannabis jobs updated daily, along with transcripts of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. This episode was engineered by Jeremy Sebastiano. I’ve been your host, TG Branfalt.