By Gregory Daurer | Aug 01, 2021
As he was coming up in the American South, Horton and his friends had a slang term for primo cannabis: "loud."
"To refer to cannabis as 'loud' means the quality's at its peak: the terpenes (the smells); the taste; the effects," says Horton, who's lived in Florida and Georgia.
Today, at his 6,500-square-foot space in Northeast Portland, Horton cultivates "loud" cannabis flower. His brand's name, LOWD, is also an acronym for "Love Our Weed Daily," which Horton calls "a mantra for us here at the facility." Horton adds of he and his team, "We love the plant, we love the culture -- and we are connoisseur [cannabis] consumers."
Every month, LOWD produces 150 pounds of strains like Mac-1 (a "Staff Pick" at top-rated Portland dispensary Farma), Sherb Mints, First Class Funk, and Horton's personal favorite, 503 Wifi, which "has the best effect of any strain I've come across -- a really classic OG flavor and smell profile that connoisseurs usually love."
Around 40 dispensaries in Oregon carry the LOWD brand. And it's growing as a business: Despite the pandemic, Horton says, "We increased our staff from about eight to 17, over the last year."
LOWD's production facility benefits from Horton's industrial engineering background, as well as his work within the energy sector. There's "innovation throughout the processes," says Horton, including water reuse: "We're actually generating 30 to 50 percent of it just by using condensate water: the water we're collecting from the air, because plants perspire so much we're able to filter that." Additionally, the facility installed "one of the most efficient HVAC systems -- we worked with the Energy Trust of Oregon to design and implement it."
Horton relocated to Portland in 2013 to work as a senior sales engineer for the German multinational, Siemens, after previously being based at one point in Munich. Horton says his time with the company gave him a keen understanding of business development, as well as energy efficiency. (He still counts former colleagues as friends -- as well as one a close mentor -- despite his unorthodox career switch.) Based upon both his previous and present-day work, Horton is able to add to the national conversation concerning energy efficiency within the horticultural sector as a board member of the Resource Innovation Institute.
Although Horton didn't like his new job in Portland, he loved both the city and Oregon's nearby wilderness -- both of which are now reflected within LOWD's branding. And he relished the opportunity to begin growing his own cannabis under the state's medical marijuana program -- first for himself, then later for a fraternity brother and his wife. The latter employed cannabis as a cancer patient, finding herself sleeping better, tapering off from other pain medications. Admittedly, Horton was principally seeking the plant's heady effects, himself, but he quickly realized, "There is a lot of substance to the industry and this plant and how it can help humanity."
Horton had never grown cannabis before moving to Oregon, but he soon established his own medical gardens. Growing up in the South, he'd been too fearful of the consequences. "I never considered putting a seed in the ground," Horton says. He'd already experienced legal consequences for marijuana possession (once losing a scholarship as a result), and his father served time in prison for a cannabis-related conviction. Horton points to the disproportionate arrest rates for Black and Brown Americans as a result of prohibition.
In order to address racial disparity within the cannabis industry itself, Horton co-founded the national group the Minority Cannabis Business Association. And his nonprofit NuLeaf Project provides "economic justice grants" to minority business people. "My ultimate goal is to help create a better industry," Horton says -- one that's more inclusive, while also delivering the benefits of tested, regulated cannabis, as well as the tax money it generates, to more minority communities.
Horton envisions LOWD eventually branching off into the manufacture of vape cartridges and edibles. But for now, he brainstorms ways the company can add value to the flower it already cultivates. That's led to the introduction of the company's SLAG jars onto the market (another acronym, SLAG stands for "Smoke Like a Grower"). Horton and LOWD's post-production director select the harvest's top plants, which are then manicured without the flowers themselves being directly touched by any hands. Horton says, "When you think about the delicacy of trichomes -- they fall off sometimes just by picking up a bud. You can really damage them and knock them off -- and that's where all the magic is."
After they've been carefully trimmed, the buds are snipped off directly into UV-resistant jars, in which they finish their curing. The manicuring takes place in what Horton calls "the world's first ergonomically-designed trim room." After curing, the SLAG jars are sent off to dispensaries, and LOWD's top customers are sent a purchase code, before becoming the first people to directly handle the buds they buy. It doesn't cost any extra money to "Smoke Like a Grower" -- like Horton, himself.
Horton says, "The brand of LOWD really speaks for an important and growing segment of cannabis culture: highly-discerning cannabis consumers who really appreciate the lifestyle -- this combination of urban and outdoor lifestyle that you can best experience in a place like Portland, Oregon. We're really representing this segment from a diverse perspective -- and we think that's a really important part of who we are."
Challenges: "The biggest challenge for my business is navigating the changing regulations that are happening now and that will happen with federal legalization," says Horton. He adds, "With the inability to access traditional capital, it doesn't matter how well my business is doing, I can't go and get that bank loan."
Opportunities: The possibility for interstate commerce following the federal rescheduling of cannabis, leading to increased competition in less-developed markets in other states. "I believe that our company and many companies in Oregon that are doing well are producers that really know their stuff," says Horton. "They've had to operate and succeed in one of the most saturated markets in the country. And with that comes a lot of learning from a lot of process development."
Needs: "Smart capital, without a doubt," says Horton. "There are so many opportunities for us to grow, to increase market share drastically, for us to grow exponentially, I think. But without being able to make those investments and make those moves, we are leaving a lot of opportunity and a lot of dollars on the table."