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Talk to the Experts Event at Slater Compassion Center

On November 8th, at 1 Corliss Street in Providence, across from the post office, thirteen apprentices and the staff of Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association were led throughout the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center by Cam Loya and Nick Bennett, both graduates of the University of Rhode Island’s Plant Sciences program. Michael Sullivan, Executive Director for RINLA, has been exploring ways to embrace all into the trade association in our ever-expanding plant-based industry. As the largest cannabis dispensary with one of the greatest product variety in the state of Rhode Island, open seven days a week and offering online ordering and a drive-thru, Slater Center competes with other centers in the region, including larger dispensaries just across state lines. The center is open year-round and employs a large staff, for whom they are working on providing more benefits to increase staff retention. Currently, they are hiring for two part-time pruners. 

The facilities, split across two separate buildings, are easy to find, tucked right under the onramp to 95 North and across from Snookers. Abutting a large parking lot you’ll find the customer welcome center, open to the public for a variety of medicinal and recreational needs. As a Rhode Islander customer, you can buy up to 1 ounce of marijuana product at a time, and with a medical card you can purchase 2.5 ounces every fourteen days. Behind the visitor center is where the magic happens, and most of the work. Boasting 18,000 square feet of growing space, Cam and Nick oversee a complex operation of indoor agriculture. Our tour guides emphasized that while the income is cited as a motivating force for those gaining entrance to the field, there are extraordinary expenses incurred and unique challenges posed to those interested in operating a dispensary.

Controlling the environment to the degree at which yields the maximum amount of product is not without a cost, and might be the reason for hiring remarkably skilled growers to make sure to cut down on waste. Dan, one of the growers whom we met, showed us how they grow plants from miniscule units called meristem cultures, which can help to prevent the spread of viruses in the process. With the help of state-of-the-art freezers and storage units, the growers can control the development of each plant, even cloning more desired ones, while monitoring for any pathogens that may arise. As plants naturally age during their time in the facility and their vitality wanes, staff can utilize somatic organogenesis to regrow an entire plant from tissue, resetting its epigenetic clock and holding onto its original cultivated strengths. 

The greatest threat to growing might be contamination, for which the building’s layout is designed with separation in mind. To cut down on human traffic patterns, staff are assigned to work in specific areas, strategically avoiding others in the hope of greatly reducing the chance of cross contamination. Visitors and workers walk through sanitizing baths as they enter new areas to reduce the risk of shoe carried debris. The blueprint of the facility includes isolated rooms designated for specific uses, including for mother plants, tissue culture, vegetation, flowering, and production. While, notably, this might not be the most effective design, it certainly is the safest, keeping in mind that yield is the bottom line. 

RINLA staff and apprentices were lucky to have spent an evening touring the facilities and hearing from Slater team members Cam and Nick, as well as staff inside the facility, on what it means to be growing marijuana here in Rhode Island. While there are all sorts of perspectives one can take on the endeavor, one that sticks most with me is the medicinal aspect of the versatile plant. While asking a staff member how he found his way to working at a dispensary, they told me they had made the decision to enter the trade after a prescription for the drug proved to be the only remedy for their continual seizures. I have also witnessed the medicinal benefits of marijuana use on other ailments, including Parkinson’s Disease. Safe to say that the drug offers a host of benefits and holds a place in society. 

If you’re feeling curious, head on down and explore for yourself! Tell them RINLA sent you!

RINLA Registered Apprentices
Nick Bennett and Cam Loya

Written by Mason Billings, with edits by Michael Sullivan

Body Photographs by Mason Billings, Cover Photo Submitted by Nick Bennett