What’s fascinating about California’s legal cannabis industry is that nearly 80 percent of municipalities still prohibit cannabis. So, although cannabis is de-criminalized and therefore quasi-legal, much work remains to be done in terms of acceptance. Somehow, though, Orange County is represented in the other 20 percent. Thanks to Santa Ana, a healthy cannabis industry exists behind the Orange Curtain. There’s an abundance of cannapreneurs and industry people pursuing revolutionary projects in our backyards.
Derek Peterson is the CEO of Terra Tech, a vertically integrated cannabis-focused agriculture company based in Irvine. The work he’s done at Terra Tech has put Orange County’s cannabis industry in the spotlight. Along with cultivating conventional, organic herbs under the name Edible Garden, Terra Tech also grows pesticide-fee cannabis and crafts concentrates under the brand IVXX, the Roman numeral for 420. These products are then sold in their dispensary chain, Blüm. With four locations in Nevada, another in Oakland, one in Santa Ana and one more in San Leandro, Blüm is becoming one of the top tier cannabis retail chains on the West Coast.
Peterson and his team at Terra Tech, a publicly traded company, have done a stellar job representing Orange County on a national level. And his plans for the next year are, essentially, going to solidify us a seat in the spotlight—at least as far as Southern California is concerned. “We just bought a 45,000-square-foot building on three acres off of Dyer Road and the 55 Freeway, and [we] want to build a giant cannabis megaplex,” Peterson says. “We want to turn it into a retail dispensary, cultivation and extraction spot. It also has such a huge yard—like two football fields worth; we want to build that into an event space where we can hold symposiums, concerts, movie nights, education days, fundraisers and events to bring the community together.”
uAn Orange County resident for more than 25 years, Peterson has a goal to build out the local market and make it a destination spot. In general, Orange County isn’t too keen on cannabis events. Costa Mesa just banned cannabis events from being held at the OC Fair and Events Center grounds, and thanks to the new legislation, people and businesses are not allowed to throw such gatherings unless they have a state-issued event business license. So, Peterson’s event space will fill a void in the current OC marketplace.
“Blending the cannabis and music communities here in Southern California is something we really want to do,” he explains. “SoCal has always been a home to music, whether you’re talking about Gwen Stefani, Sublime, the Dirty Heads, whoever—there are so many bands and musicians that’ve come up around here, and it’ still happening. We’d really like the opportunity to showcase new and established artists who have a connection or are interested in cannabis. The goal is to bring different communities together.”
Peterson even talks about hosting drive-in movies at his canna-complex if the city permits. But another aspect of this build-out is the job creation and economic boost it’ll give Santa Ana. Peterson envisions a place where people want to work– and that’s likely to become a reality because he invests a lot in his employees. Not only does every employee go through paid trainings and cannabis education courses, but they also get full benefits: health, vision and dental, on Terra Tech’s dime. Peterson also provides lunch and snacks for his employees every day.
“The only way you’re going to have great employees who give customers the best possible service is by treating them well,” he says. “The competition among retailers isn’t who has the best weed, it’s who offers the best service. Our mantra is, ‘good weed, better people’ because we work hard at creating an environment that brings out the most of our employees. We want them to like going to work. We want to educate them.”
Another vital reason Peterson invests in his employees is because cannabis consumers need to be educated about the plant and what they’re ingesting. Although the younger generation needs the education, too, the Baby Boomer demographic needs the most attention because pot back in the day was at least 15 percent less potent. They also didn’t have a million product derivatives to choose from, either. Additionally, Big Pharma targets seniors, and cannabis can substitute many of the meds doctors prescribe them.
“Being able to give good advice to our patients and customers is critical,” Peterson says. “If someone comes in with anxiety, and a budtender sends them home with a sativa strain, that person is likely going to have a negative experience. That’s the whole point of educating and investing in our employees. They’re helping people make health and wellness decisions.”
The ultimate goal for Peterson in building this comprehensive facility, he explains, is to bring Orange County cannabis to the forefront from both a medical and adult-use standpoint. And at least in terms of professionalism, Terra Tech is the company best fit to do so. “Cannabis is a lifestyle, just like the surfing and music cultures,” says Peterson. “People want to come together for cultural experiences, and that’s what we plan to bring to Orange County.”