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Root Sciences: Cannabis Shifts Towards Professionalism, GMP

This week, Marcus Tillson and Steven Brewster discuss how the company builds state-of-the-art cannabis processing facilities and why operators are looking for higher-quality equipment.

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Marcus Tillson and Steven Brewster took divergent paths to the cannabis industry. Tillson came to the industry by accident after working in the medical device industry for more than ten years. He wanted something different, he wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest, and he'd had enough of dealing with the FDA. So he found himself applying for a position in cannabis and wound up the sales director at Root Sciences. 

After earning his biochemistry degree, Brewster met the creator of a Washington state startup building an extraction lab and indoor grow. Designing and building an indoor grow and processing facility from the ground up was an eye-opening experience, and he hoped to pursue a role deeper into the world of cannabis extraction. He answered an ad for an installation technician at Root Sciences and started installing the company's distillation machines. Four years later, and after more than 100 installations all over the world, he's risen up the Root Sciences ranks and become the director of products and R&D. 

Root Sciences is a processing equipment distributor that only offers best-in-class machines. The company provides an end-to-end line of equipment with the ability to set up an entire processing lab that can process crude oil through to a finished product.

The company's suppliers go through a rigorous vetting process. Root Sciences works with several suppliers and maintains an agnostic viewpoint regarding technology. This practice allows it to carry multiple extraction technologies, including cryoethanol, hydrocarbon, CO2 and solventless. By staying agnostic, Tillson says the company can provide the best possible setup for any application at a competitive price.  

Root Sciences sprouted out of a grow operation about six years ago. At the time, the grow was experimenting with a VTA distillation unit and found that it was far superior to anything on the market. The team worked with the manufacturer to tailor it for the cannabis industry, and Root Sciences was born as a company marketing the machine to U.S. cannabis processors. Nowadays, the company typically finds existing suppliers from outside the cannabis industry and works with the manufacturer to hone equipment for cannabis and bring it to market. 

The company looks for manufacturers outside of the industry because they tend to have a legacy of established quality, which can be challenging to find in a nascent industry. Such experience is easy to find in distillation and extraction, which have existed in other industries for years. They pursue partners with solid R&D, high-quality engineering and established sourcing techniques that work in the GMP area. The quality gives Root a jumpstart into the upper echelon of the cannabis industry. 

The extensive vetting process begins with significant market research on Brewster's end to ensure candidates would be viable in cannabis. For example, some nanoemulsification equipment is so expensive that it doesn't make sense from a cannabis business perspective. He comes up with a shortlist of suppliers and then, if it's available, brings in the equipment to test. It's a lengthy process that varies based on equipment.

Over the years, Brewster has run into some suppliers that weren't a good fit. He says the R&D process often gives him a clear image of what the partnership would be like with the supplier. 

When it comes to extraction, Brewster says it is hard to beat cold hydrocarbon when it comes to preserving terpenes. He also likes the variety of extracts that can be produced with the method. Given the industry's youth, it is still rife with innovation and Brewster is encouraged by the unique thought that keeps him on his toes. He often relies on his biochemistry background to vet new technologies and determine whether or not they have legs.

Installations vary widely. Brewster recalls jobs in everything from residential garages to class four cleanrooms. The jobs run the gamut, but he has seen the cannabis industry shift towards professionalism, with an increasing number of inquiries focusing on GMP quality products. 

While the company does work with suppliers on tweaking designs, getting wholly into manufacturing products is beyond its scope. Tillson says it would take a herculean effort to get into manufacturing, especially at the level of quality that they demand. 

Next, the company is ramping up the release of a solventless terpene extractor, the STX90, made by Tandem Technology. Root Sciences is amidst a soft launch with a big splash planned for MJBiz in November. The extractor uses direct distillation technology and a vacuum that evaporates the most volatile components straight off the biomass. The STX90 produces terpene isolate that is more than 99% terpenes with no cannabinoids. According to Brewster, the extractor is ideally suited to be paired with other extraction techniques. 

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