Image: Dan Curtis of CannaRadius
By Victoria Dekker
Master cannabis grower Cassandra Maffey’s career sprouted from humble roots: growing six little clones in an apartment closet.
Today, she manages Verde Naturals’ 25,000 square-foot cannabis warehouse, holds title as CEO of a large-scale cultivation consultation company, and is reputed as one of the finest organic growers in the business.
How did you become interested in cannabis cultivation?
I started smoking cannabis pretty early on in my life. I appreciated its capacity as a healing medicine pretty much immediately. Where some people describe cannabis as an escape, for me, it’s a catalyst to connect with my best self, my higher power. It helps me to immerse myself in what’s beautiful and meaningful in the world. Because cannabis encourages me to be honest with myself, I find I can learn, and grow, and constantly become a better, wiser person as a result. My interest in cultivation definitely came from my love of cannabis. I wanted to understand what this powerful plant was like on a deeper level.
Tell us about how you first started growing and your first crop
It was awesome. Two of my closest friends and I were sharing an apartment on South G Street in Arcata, California, right down the road from where a lot of the big hydro companies got started. This guy we’d been buying weed from gave us six little clones and a little florescent light fixture. We grew those little babies in our closet and were so delighted with every little change and stage of growth. I think we yielded two ounces? But we shared it all. We shared it with all our friends, and it was amazing. To this day, some of those friends think back on that weed (G13 and Trainwreck) that we put so much love into, and say it was the best they ever smoked.
Why did you ultimately decide to pursue cannabis cultivation?
Because I was in this cannabis growing mecca – I was surrounded by growers – and it was still pretty edgy in those days. Local law enforcement was going after even small-time growers pretty aggressively. Even so, I knew all kinds of people who were growing indoor, outdoor, young people, old people, and I was really attracted to the freedom and the independence of the grower lifestyle. Even though I was still working plenty of ‘real’ jobs, mostly in restaurants, I really enjoyed the autonomy and challenge of growing cannabis. I was very intellectually engaged, learning about cannabis horticulture, botany and soil science. It was fun work and made me feel engaged in something meaningful. I went from the little closet to a bedroom, to eventually growing in a pretty large-scale outdoor cultivation environment.
When and how did you get serious about growing cannabis as a career?
I was scaling up and up and up and trying different things. Within the first couple years, I was convinced growing organically in soil was the way to go for me. I was really happy with my results in terms of quality and yield.
I reached the end of my rope in Humboldt (county) toward the end of 2008 and was ready to move out of the ‘wild west’ environment that I was in. I was getting a little older and really didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail – that was a very real risk. Even if you had medical patients, there weren’t a lot of options to run a real business with reportable income. My path led me to Colorado in 2008. At that time, it was really the only place in the country where it was possible to have a totally above-ground, transparent, reportable income cannabis job. Shortly after I moved, I became the master grower for a medical dispensary. It was, honestly, really hard. The hours were longer than I was used to working and extremely low pay, but what I loved was the experience and the capacity to truly connect with the patients I was serving. It got very personal and meaningful in a way that I could see I was making an impact in people’s lives. That’s when I realized this is my career.
Tell us about the work you do today
I’m CEO of my own cultivation consulting company, Force of Nature. I design medium-to-large scale cultivation facilities all around the country and help my clients implement my signature living soil system and organic cultivation methods. I’ve been working with Verde Naturals for two years, from the design phase to cultivation. I’m really proud of all we’ve done as a team. We’re the exclusive supplier for Chong’s Choice Colorado and we work with over 40 medical and recreational strains, including some like Archangel, that I bred when I was still in Humboldt.
What’s most challenging about your line of work?
Working in an industry where the regulations are both constantly changing and heavily enforced is a huge challenge. These aren’t really regulations you can keep track of 100 per cent on your own. It requires constant legal advice and constant shifting of how we do business.
What’s most rewarding?
I love being a pioneer. I love being part of a community of misfits and risk-takers. And I love that the work we all do together is profoundly meaningful – we’re laying the groundwork for some amazing medical and scientific breakthroughs. Even on the recreational side, we’re bringing better quality of life.
Are there challenges unique to women in cultivation?
Sadly, there are. There aren’t really many large-scale women cultivators yet, and there are even fewer women master growers. So on one hand, some people really love and respect women master growers, but on the other hand, there’s still quite a bit of sexism in the world and in this industry in general, especially on the cultivation side. There are a lot of women in this industry in CEO positions or management positions, but on the cultivation end, not so much. I know the softer, more compassionate and intuitive leadership style that I naturally embody as a woman doesn’t sit as well with some people. I’ve had a few male growers do credit for work that I’ve done, which I don’t think would happen if I was one of those hard-ass, big ego, sunglasses indoors male growers. That’s hard. Some employees have admitted they have a hard time taking direction from a young woman master grower. That’s been hard at times, but I’ve pushed through it. Definitely those challenges make me a better person.
What’s your hope for the future of cannabis in North America?
I really hope that both the medical and recreational cannabis industries thrive – I think we need both. I want people to be able get what they need from cannabis without any pretense. Sometimes recreational users have gone to medical cannabis and have had to lie about their reasons, so I’d like to see total transparency on both sides. I’m also really excited to see the results of clinical cannabis research that will be taking place over the next three-to-five years, so we can start to effectively treat disease states for which there currently are no cures. We have all these little hints at what cannabis can do, but I really want us to see scientifically backed clinical research that can benefit humanity as a whole.
When it comes to your work and your achievements, what are you most proud of?
I’m especially proud that because I’m able to successfully grow cannabis on a large scale, to show other people in the industry that there are sustainable ways to grow cannabis in a way that’s cost-effective and also gentle on the environment. If nothing else, if I can help lend credibility to large-scale organic cultivation, I’ll be glad if I can make my mark that way. I’m absolutely amazed at how far I’ve come. When I started growing in my closet, I never imagined it would even be possible to be a cannabis CEO. I feel really good about the medicine that I’ve helped to grow and how many lives I’ve been able to touch as a part of that.
Cassandra Maffey and Force of Nature:
WOMEN IN WEED
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