Riviera Creek medical marijuana facility prepares for first orders


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By Graig Graziosi

ggraziosi@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

There is a process that must be followed before laying eyes on the sea of green marijuana plants hidden in the bowels of the Riviera Creek medical marijuana facility just outside downtown Youngstown.

Masks and gloves must be worn, clothes must be stripped and surgical scrubs donned. Even shoes have to be left in the facility’s small changing area in exchange for Croc-like plastic footwear.

Beyond the doors of the changing room is a long, white-walled hallway stretching nearly the length of the multimillion dollar facility.

Walking down the stark corridor promotes a feeling of clinical rigidity: Lab technicians in scrubs and masks tend to computers and microscopes; windows in the wall reveal workstations, complete with office chairs and file sorters.

Opposite the lab and offices are the grow rooms. Inside, the aesthetic evolves as the clinical gives way to the futuristic, aeroponic-grown cannabis plants are suspended, their stems and leaves virtually touching nothing as nutrients are applied directly to their free-hanging roots through a mist.

The temperature, humidity and airflow in the rooms are monitored day and night while cameras provide a means for the staff to check in on the crop from outside the room.

The facility is the work of Brian and Daniel Kessler. The uncle-nephew team – with Brian serving as chairman of the board and Daniel as the company’s CEO – are the progeny of Kessler Products, a local company that dealt in plastics and other goods. The family has been in business in the Valley in one way or another for more than 100 years.

With their new venture, the Kesslers hope to eventually deliver a medical marijuana product with the same consistency in application as any common over-the-counter drug, such as Tylenol.

As they develop and test and tweak the plants – down to their very genes – the Kesslers believe in the future they will have products not only with the stability of traditional over-the-counter medicines, but also the pin-point specificity to treat certain ailments with particular products at particular doses.

Riviera Creek makes up one portion of the medical marijuana supply chain made legal under House Bill 523. Under state law, dispensaries must be separate from testing labs, which must be separate from cultivators such as Riviera Creek.

“The state monitors the movement of the plants throughout the entire process, from seed to sale,” Brian Kessler said.

The marijuana business in Ohio is still very much in its infancy, to the point where all that exists currently are buildings. Testing facilities have yet to begin their work, which means dispensaries are months away from having any actual product to sell.

While testing labs are preparing to begin their research and dispensaries are in the process of securing their sites – QuestWellness, a dispensary on the Boardman-Youngstown border, is seeking a zoning exemption from the city due to its proximity to a Boardman-based distillery, for example – the staff at Riviera Creek is already working to produce the first products.

Riviera has just under a dozen employees between its administrators, lab staff and security personnel, though Brian Kessler expects as demand grows and the business expands, the staff will eventually grow closer to 100.

The Kesslers said they try to be selective with their employees, cultivating their lab staff primarily from graduates of the Cleveland School of Cannabis, one of the only certification-providing programs of its kind east of Colorado.

The program teaches students about the medical and chemical makeup of marijuana, the skills needed to operate a cannabis business and the horticultural skills needed for the cultivation of the plant.

In its current state, the operation seems well-conceived and tightly run. Whether complications arise once the rollout of actual medical marijuana onto the market occurs remains to be seen, but the Kesslers are confident they will not only rise to the occasion, but give the city some hope after a week of crushing employment news.

“Youngstown has always been known as this old steel city – that’s always been our identity,” Brian Kessler said. “But now we’ve got a high-tech, cutting-edge facility here in an industry that is only going to grow, both here and nationally. It’s good news.”

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