BY IVA MAURIN
CHALAN LAULAU, Saipan —With just a little over $14,500 in initial investment, Victor Cabrera, sole proprietor of Slider Marianas LLC, became the first Class 1 Cannabis producer licensee in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Barely three months since acquiring his license in March, Cabrera is now expecting to get his first harvest towards the end of June or early July, which he has grown in a 750 square feet canopy space at his T-Marianas farm in Chalan Laulau on Middle Road.
Cabrera has met with potential retail license owners who are awaiting approval and licenses from the NMI Cannabis Commission, so he can begin rolling out his products to them; negotiations are already underway in terms of quantity, variety, and possibly, a consistent delivery schedule.
Business is rolling in for T-Marianas, and so, this lifelong farmer, son of a horticulturalist, and 8th grade Career and Technical Education agriculture teacher at Hopwood Middle School has grown busy.
“As a long-time farmer, I used my knowledge and experience in hybridizing to begin crossing as many varieties as I could to create a seed bank of my own. I would collect pollen from various sources and use that to pollinate select female plants that I have grown. Through this process, I was able to begin growing my first generation of hybrids,” Cabrera told the Journal.
“I have since worked with several other registered home growers to further develop my hybrids and stabilize seeds to use as my seed bank for my endeavors as a cannabis producer,” he said.
In September, Cabrera applied for and received his Homegrown Registry Card to begin growing at home, where he began by collecting varieties of seeds. In October, he secured a rental unit to grow cannabis, but was not permitted to do so prior to receiving his Producer License, due to strict regulations. He used that time to run tests on lighting, water, air-conditioning, humidity levels, and ventilation.
He began planting seeds March 13, the day after receiving his Class 1 Producer License. From his initial $14,500 total investment for permits, licenses, and for his shop, his operational costs began to mount, he said. “Monthly expenses for utilities, water, sewer, and growing supplies continue to add up. Based on the amount of space I have to work with, I expect to get a return on my investment — hopefully within the first year of operations. However, that can always change due to factors such as typhoons, pest infestations, or other unforeseen calamities that may come along the way.”
Cabrera keeps his cannabis as organic possible, relying heavily on supplements like worm castings, compost tea and rock minerals. He intends to create a “smoother smoking experience” — providing everything one would expect with a high THC profile.
He also intends to focus more on the medicinal aspect of growing, for the purpose of aiding those with insomnia and anxiety, as well those experiencing pain and discomfort.
Class 1 Producers can only grow so much with the limited space, so Cabrera intends to expand and possibly get another Class 1 Producer license in the very near future.
“The … added space would be used as my genetics grow room, where I can focus on developing new hybrid strains and seeds to use as my seed bank. Should that come to fruition, I do intend on hiring someone to help me with the workload and ensure that the added grow room will be self-sustaining in terms of expenses and grow a few strains to sale to retailers as well.”
At the moment, Cabrera said his biggest challenge is trying to grow a variety of strains so retailers would have a wider selection to offer their customers. “Each strain is unique with its own set of requirements and pickiness in terms of nutrients, temperature and lighting. That proved to be a great learning curve that I had to overcome as quickly as possible.
“Overall, the quality of the end product is my biggest priority since day one. Fortunately, my OCD kicked into high gear and I was able to make all the necessary adjustments. As of today, I am happy to say that things are back on track in terms of the growth and development of my plants.”
Only one other company has been approved for cannabis production [and retail] in the NMI —Saipan Select LLC. Cabrera said he believes that each producer will have their own specialty, which in turn, will ensure that all of them will be able to operate in harmony as growers.
“I consider competition as my motivation to focus and improve myself as a grower and not just as a competitor. I believe that the potential for all growers to work together and thrive in the cannabis industry is a real possibility.”
The future is promising, he said.
“I have no doubt that as other businesses get their licenses, the business landscape will change significantly and producers, retailers, and lounges will end up working hand-in-hand in order to keep revenue flowing. This in turn will generate revenue in the form of taxes for the local government.”
Cabrera said he is uncertain how the industry will grow and develop. He believes, however, that for more businesses to get their licenses, be compliant and operate according to law, the cannabis commission needs more support in terms of staffing for enforcement and compliance officers.
“In order to ensure that businesses getting into the cannabis industry are successful, the commission has its work cut out for them in regard to enforcement,” he said.
“There is a lot of potential for expanding the cannabis industry here into other ideas for sub-industries such as security, processors, eateries, and crafts. The possibilities are there, it’s just a matter of how fast the commission can work on getting these businesses licensed to get started.”
For those who intend to join the cannabis industry Cabrera said there is no better time to start than now. He advised people to be diligent when it comes to fulfilling all the requirements, not only from the Cannabis Commission, but all the other regulating agencies like the CNMI Zoning Board, the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Building Safety, the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, and any other agencies that may come into play depending on other requirements.
Cabrera also stressed that the hardest part of getting started is getting started, and that one’s investment is crucial to just how big or small the business can start out to be.
“Most importantly, do not think that things will happen overnight,” he said.
“Allow yourself at least four to six months of just planning and applying in order to get things going. The process is tedious, and the rewards are not immediate but as with any other business, if you are passionate about it, it will pay off. You have to be ready for the long haul and if you don’t have the patience, then perhaps getting into this new emerging industry may not be for you.”
To learn more about cannabis, and for updates on hybrids Cabrera is growing, visit the T-Marianas website at www.tmarianasfarm.com, and social media outlets (IG: tmarianas 670 FB: T-Marianas Farm). mbj