With a market that's a decade or more ahead of most every other state in the nation, Colorado is one of the centers for cannabis innovation and research. Companies working with high-THC marijuana and CBD-heavy hemp have developed high-tech vaporizers, extraction and processing equipment, pharmaceutical-grade delivery mechanisms, and an ever growing list of industry firsts and superlatives.
These 12 companies stand out for driving innovation in cannabis in Colorado.
To build his innovative hemp-processing system, founder Matt Birkholz spent eight months researching the design, working with a consultant and a contract manufacturer, and asking technical questions of knowledgeable people. Explains Birkholz: "You don't Google a 'hemp de-huller' and find one. It's a system, and it's a custom system."
Formerly known as CBDRx, Functional Remedies has its own brand of CBD products; acts as a third-party supplier of CBD-rich extracts to other manufacturers; and endeavors to develop the best cultivar for hemp to process into CBD, fiber, and nutritious oils.
The company is taking a pharmaceutical-based manufacturing model to the cannabis industry. "What's different about Stratos is our tablet delivery and our formulation," says CEO Bradley Orr. That's where the team's pharmaceutical experience comes into play: "Pharmaceuticals do a very good job delivering active ingredients to the body," he says. "A tablet allows for rapid delivery. Fifteen to 30 minutes is a consistent report we get from consumers."
The Denver company grows its own cannabis, and uses its extraction machines and 10 ovens to process the raw cannabis into highly concentrated products. Al Harrington, formerly of the NBA's Nuggets, is a part owner and believer in the medical efficacy of marijuana.
The Denver-based vaporizer manufacturer works with a contract partner in China and uses carbon dioxide to make the extracts in its cartridges. Founded in 2012, O.penVAPE is now under the umbrella of Organa Brands, which touts itself as the largest cannabis brand in the nation.
The Grasshopper, the only domestically manufactured vaporizer on the market, is a marvel of engineering: There are 80 components in all. "The number of aspects involved in building this device is just insane," says co-founder Trevor Vita. "We built and designed every single part of the device. You know, the circuit boards, the mechanical design, the software, the battery chemistry, everything."
With a focus on quality and consistency, marQaha's tinctures, sprays, and beverages are available in more than 400 dispensaries. Co-founder Lloyd "Skip" Meador touts marQaha's "whole plant" approach for creating efficacy and palatable flavors.
CompanyWeek writer Gregory Daurer reported on this leading marijuana-infused product manufacturer's impressive rise to more than 100 employees. Between 2010 and 2014, the company doubled in size every year. "We're still projecting we're going to double in the next 18 to 34 months, again, with growth outside of this state," says President Bob Eschino. "Our goal is to become number one in the U.S."
Co-founders Jeremy Goldstein and Justin Singer wanted to create a whole new breed of "functional edibles" -- products designed to alleviate pain without getting customers high, and without relying on unhealthy additives such as sugar. The result is Ripple Dissolvable THC and CBD powders, the key ingredients in Stillwater's teas and coffees.
The Broomfield manufacturer has developed a wide range of innovative harvesting technology since Joe Black founded the company in 2011. EZTRIM now makes a full catalog of trimming, sifting, and pressing devices for grow operations and cannabis companies.
With a catalog spanning edibles, topicals, and tinctures and operations in Colorado, California, Arizona, and Nevada, Dixie has been on the leading edge of cannabis manufacturing since it was founded in 2009. The company's cultivation/extraction/production facility in northeast Denver includes a mezzanine with an education center, a "state-of-the-art" laboratory, and exhibit hall.
Founder Barbara Filippone's Glenwood Springs company has been a leader in hemp fabrics for 25 years. EnviroTextiles' manufacturing partners in China are some of the biggest producers of hemp textiles in the industry, but Filippone's vision is to bring some of that manufacturing back to the U.S.