Getting In On the Ground Floor with Lead Extractor Sean Strickland

Just a few short years ago, a career in legal cannabis wasn’t an option. Now, people can jump in with both feet. Such was the case for Sean Strickland, the Buyer and Lead Extraction Technician at our Washington facility. Sean has been with Avitas since the beginning, pitching in on our very first harvest back in August of 2014. He’d been on track to go into computer networking, but once he discovered cannabis, there was no going back.

Getting Into Cannabis

Sean was invited to see what Avitas was all about by his uncle, Jason Smit, our Master Grower in Washington. Sean was intrigued and decided to dive in as a processing assistant. He worked in processing for a year before transferring over to work in the lab and to explore R&D. Sean shifted his focus away from computer science and began to study chemistry and plant biology in earnest as he helped define and implement lab best practices back in the earliest days of Avitas. Being at Avitas from the start has had a significant impact on Sean’s trajectory, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He says, “It was amazing to be involved with cannabis from the very beginning. I’ve seen the company move from a friends and family operation to a multi-state movement.”

Making a Way

Being pioneers in the cannabis industry hasn’t been without its challenges. “We grew a lot more quickly than even we expected,” He laughs. “All of the sudden our facilities couldn’t keep up with demand, and we had to move fast to be able to fill all of the orders that came flowing our way.” It may have caused a few headaches at the time, but even Sean admits that rapid growth was a great problem to have.

Living the Dream

Today, Sean works with our Science Director, Dr. Amber Wise, and continues to streamline lab efficiencies to create the best cannabis oil cartridges on the market. “Working with weed and at the forefront of a brand new industry is awesome. It’s very rare that something like this pops up and I’m so glad that I was able to hop onboard.”

Avitas Celebrates Pride By Supporting Two Great Organizations

Pride Month is here, and we’re thrilled to celebrate it with a brand new strain! Our Pride strain this year is Unicorn Glitter, and it’s an exceptional blend full of double rainbows, unicorn laughs, glitter hearts, and of course, love, because #LoveisLove, and we love to give back to those who love. This month, we’re donating a portion of the proceeds of Unicorn Glitter to two fantastic organizations in Washington and Oregon working hard to promote the well-being of the LGBTQ community in the Pacific Northwest. Joe Bergen, our General Manager in Oregon, says, “We’re excited to kick off Pride by supporting and highlighting both the LGBTQ community and two amazing organizations that fight for equality and inclusivity in the states that we live in and love.”

We Love Equal Rights Washington!

The first organization we’re partnering with is Equal Rights Washington (ERW). ERW works to ensure and promote dignity, safety, and equality for all LGBTQ Washingtonians. Their work began with the fight for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in 2006, domestic partnerships in 2009, marriage equality in 2012, trans healthcare in 2015, and a statewide ban on conversion therapy for minors in 2018. This year they also celebrated the passage of the Uniform Parentage Act to support parents as they begin and grow their families, and De-Escalate Washington’s Initiative 940 to provide all law enforcement officers with additional tools and skills to better keep all communities safe. To learn more about Equal Rights Washington and the extraordinary work that they do visit their website and discover more ways you can help support this incredible organization.

Basic Rights Oregon is Goals

The second tremendous organization we’re looking to support and shine a light on is Basic Rights Oregon. Basic Rights works to ensure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Oregonians experience equality by building a broad and inclusive politically powerful movement, shifting public opinion and achieving policy victories. In 2007, the organization helped pass, the Oregon Equality Act, providing comprehensive non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. In the ensuing years, Basic Rights moved policy to expand health care access for transgender Oregonians, protect LGBTQ youth from bullying in schools, ban youth conversion therapy and win the freedom to marry. Today, more than 150,000 volunteers and donors support Basic Rights’ LGBTQ pro-equality efforts. To support Basic Rights Oregon’s movement and to learn more about their current goals visit their website.

From the Avitas family to yours, we hope everyone has a fun and safe Pride! And remember, if you’re looking for something to help elevate the festivities, keep an eye out for Unicorn Glitter! It’s truly a magical ride.

Meet Erika Our Washington GM with a Taste for Adventure

Erika Smith isn’t afraid of a challenge. She once hiked eight miles to find someone to help her fish her car out of a stream and another time got paid a hundred bucks to embark on a daring midnight rescue mission to save a patch of prime cannabis trapped in the path of a tropical storm. So back in 2014, after helping her brother, Adam, plan Avitas’ path from the beginning, she was more than ready to hop on board with the company. Armed with meticulous attention to detail and a passion for making things work, she started off as Avitas’ Director of Human Resources and now has moved into the management of day-to-day operations at Avitas’ Washington farm as the state’s General Manager.

Making the Leap

From the beginning, Erika was in conversation with Adam as he worked to get Avitas off the ground, but her job was in a wildly different industry. She began her career in the public sector, eventually becoming a Program Director for the Employment Security Department, a worker re-education and job training program in Bellingham, WA. She didn’t realize it at the time, but sixteen years in the public sector set her up quite well for her role as General Manager.

Where others may have been overwhelmed, soon after starting her role, Erika found herself completely at home in the complex regulatory environment of I-502. She laughs looking back on it, “I came from a background that was very strict in terms of compliance, and we got audited every year. We had to dot the i’s and cross every t. So I-502 made a bizarre sort of sense to me. I immediately knew I could help.” There’s always a new mystery or puzzle to overcome every week and Erika wouldn’t have it any other way. “Everyone who works at Avitas is super passionate about our product. It’s the perfect environment to do great work because we’re all so invested.”

Keeping the Oil Flowing

That’s not to say that those first few months were easy. Avitas, like so many other producer/processors in Washington, was breaking new ground in the industry in 2014. “We were pioneers. No one knew exactly what we were doing or how the industry was going to change. We just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get things done.”

Today, Erika and the Avitas Washington team are facing new challenges as Avitas grows and changes. However even though her work now spans two states as she works closely with the Oregon operation, Erika is determined to keep her focus on the day-to-day aspects of her role. “It’s both exciting and daunting to see where the future is taking us. But, we’re focusing on keeping our heads down and bringing a high-quality product to Washington state customers. As we continue to grow, we need to keep doing what we’re doing just more and better.”

Overcoming Obstacles to Take the Long View on Cannabis with Craig Levin

A born and bred Washingtonian, Avitas C.O.O., Craig Levin didn’t see cannabis coming. In college and grad school, Craig steered toward degrees in business and finance and spent the beginning of his career guiding giants like Verizon in well-established industries. However, a few years ago, he decided he needed a new challenge.

History in the Making

In his search for that new mountain to climb, he discovered himself in cannabis. He still thinks it’s one of his best decisions to date. “Legal cannabis is a history-making opportunity. I realized I wanted to be involved in shaping this industry. Cannabis is about so much more than making money. It’s also about social justice and making sure that patients can legally get a medication that truly helps them.”

Overcoming Obstacles

On top of these broader concerns, the truth is that working in the legal cannabis space provided Craig with some fairly unique challenges. “In general, running a small business in this industry is ten times as hard as running a business in a conventional industry. There are so many additional hurdles that we face in cannabis, including really fundamental things like access to banking and credit.” He continues, “The product changes, the legislation around how we’re able to make the product changes. There’s some new obstacle that heads our way on a regular basis. It’s a lot of risk-taking behavior, and it can be expensive.” But, he thinks, ultimately worth it. “It’s an industry worth fighting for, and I love that Avitas is all about making sure we’re thinking through how to help the cannabis space in the long run.”

It’s All About Our Customers

That overarching view of the industry not only covers legislation and the ability to navigate the intricacies of regulation, it’s also completely focused on customer satisfaction. “We love our customers!” Craig explains, “They’re into connecting with the community and conservation. They want a feel-good experience. Not just what they’re consuming but the companies and brands they’re supporting as well. We always want to live up to and exceed their already high expectations.”

The hours can be long and challenging, but one thing’s for sure, Craig’s no longer bored. He’s helping our entire team be ready and willing to scale new heights in quality and customer satisfaction in both Washington and Oregon, and perhaps, eventually, beyond.

Meet Merlynn Lindgren: Making Magic in Our Oregon Lab

Life, as most of us know, can take some pretty crazy twists and turns. Someone who knows this truth especially well is Merlynn Lindgren. Merlynn has had a long and winding road toward Avitas. She's been a vet tech, worked in mills, taken on phlebotomy, and did research in a grass seed genetics lab all of which has prepared her for her new role as our Lead Extraction Technician/Lab Manager at our Oregon lab. "I found the position in, of all places Craigslist! It was just one of those right place, right time kind of things. I saw the ad, sent in my resume, and a half hour later, Joe gave me a call. It was a huge 'aha' sort of moment; I laughed because everything I'd done up to this point made me perfect for the role."

Getting Her Science On

In the lab, Merlynn does everything from grinding flower and extracting the oil, to delicately extricating the terpenes from the mix and drawing off waxes and lipids in our purification process. After all of that, she hand mixes the terpenes back into the finished oil to preserve and showcase the flavor and aroma of the specific strains, and gets the oil to the team that puts it into the actual cartridges. From harvested flower to final product, she's there nearly every step of the way. "It's been such a great experience. I love learning about the plants. Honestly, I can't believe they let me run around giant buckets of weed all day. It's great!"

Customer Focus

Avitas works hard to make sure that we're doing everything we can for our customers, and that's something Merlynn experiences first hand, even in the lab. "We have salespeople dropping in a lot, giving us customer feedback and letting us know which strains are making people happy. It's great to have that kind of touchstone." Having that level of feedback might be stressful somewhere else, but at Avitas that's not an issue. "We have such a conscientious group at our lab. We're proud of the quality of oil we create, and we're such a tight-knit group that even putting in a lot of long hours isn't a chore. We just want to make sure our product is first class."

Women in Cannabis

The irony is that Merlynn hadn't ever really thought of trying cannabis before Avitas and quite honestly; she still doesn't routinely partake. It's just not something that fits her lifestyle at the moment, but she still feels cannabis is a great industry to work in. She's excited about the direction cannabis is headed and enthusiastic about the role of women in cannabis. "In my position, I'm responsible not only for the chemistry but also repairing and maintaining the equipment and managing the day to day operation of the lab. Our science director based in Washington is also female. There are so many opportunities in this industry that women should jump into it." Merlynn continues, "If you have women involved in cannabis, it makes other women feel like they can take on the space too. It's so important because it humanizes this growing industry." She laughs, saying, "Honestly, I think you need the balance. Women bring so much to the table."

Crafting Avitas Culture

The idea for Avitas may have started at a kitchen table while discussing legalization with family and friends. But, to move beyond a single state operation, we had to expand our leadership team outside of Washington.  As we began to assemble our team, we knew we wanted to take a long-term approach and build a company that kept the big picture in mind, working to lift the stigma and misinformation that still bedevils cannabis as a whole. We also wanted to create a company that consumers could trust, a company that operated with integrity and transparency, and that had a progressive social mission.  For our expansion to Oregon, one name was at the top of our list, Joe.

At first glance, Joe might not seem like an obvious candidate for a new hire at a cannabis company. He spent most of his career in the nonprofit world, working at organizations that matched at-risk youth with transformational mentors. However, his unique set of skills and perspective transferred to Avitas without a hitch. Joe worked at nonprofit startups, so he was no stranger to the hard work of scaling, replication, and business development needed to feed a new company.

It was about more than making the businesses pieces fit though. Joe says, “Part of what I wanted when I came to Avitas was a company that made me proud. I have a lot invested in how we run the company, not just the products we’re putting out into the world but also our employees and how we treat them.”

Joe shapes Avitas’ culture with four guiding principles: be happy, be productive, be yourself, and be together. This approach makes the care and feeding of cannabis go faster. (Despite what you might have heard, trimming weed isn’t the most exciting thing in the world). The Avitas farm and lab teams make each day their own by having fun, being themselves, and supporting each other as a community. This environment (hopefully) leaves little room for boredom and ensures sure that every task is knocked out on time and with excellence.

On top of regular working days, teams embark on various activities including BBQs (Joe does most of the cooking for Oregon get-togethers), bowling, holiday parties, an employee of the month contest, and a mountain of inside and practical jokes. It’s all part of the culture and part of what makes working at Avitas unique. Joe says, “We’ve built something special as a group no one person owns the responsibility. It’s a collaborative effort. Our staff shares in creating a great working environment that’s fun and supportive.”

Serendipity & the Science Director: Amber Wise's Avitas Journey

At Avitas, we think it’s incredibly important that people understand the chemistry behind the cannabis. That’s why we’re transparent about our methods and are committed to integrity in everything we do from testing for pesticides to our full-spectrum extraction process in our oils. That’s why we try to go above and beyond in our scientific approach to cannabis, which brings us to our talented Science Director, Dr. Amber Wise.

An Unlikely Journey

A few years ago, if you’d told Amber she’d be the Science Director for one of the leading cannabis producer/processors in the Pacific Northwest, she wouldn’t have believed you, but now she laughs, “Nineteen-year-old Amber is really excited about what’s happening right now!” A little over a year ago, Amber, burnt out on academia and looking for a change, met our co-founder, Adam, at the Cannabis Science Conference in Portland. Adam was immediately impressed by Amber saying, “We’d been on the hunt for a Science Director for a while, and I was thrilled to run into Amber at the conference. I thought she’d be a great fit for Avitas.”

Amber brings a vast field of knowledge to our team. She has her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. She finished off her studies with postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco studying chemical exposure risk and toxicology and a stint as a science policy research intern chemical exposure, risk and toxicology with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Her command of chemistry is far-reaching and much-needed in our growing industry.

Cannabis + Chemistry = The Perfect Match

There are quite a few Ph.D.s in analytical labs, but it’s relatively unique to have a Ph.D. in this position at a producer/processor. Amber believes that as the industry continues to grow, having Ph.D.s in this area will become an industry standard. She explains, “There’s a real need for scientists--and good ones--in this industry. There’s so much basic research that needs to be done on everything from extractions, to profiles of strains, and genetics.”

She continues, “Most typical commodities have had tons and tons of scientific research done on its different properties, but cannabis is lagging way behind for a variety of different reasons.” She reveals that this has to do with the fact that cannabis research is still illegal at the Federal level and that though there are interesting studies ongoing abroad, most of the research that’s being done is within private industry, so very few people are particularly interested in sharing information because it’s proprietary. The secretive nature of cannabis research needs to change. Some of Amber’s focus is on networking. Reaching out both on a peer level, through educational seminars for budtenders, and giving talks at cannatech meetups. And, to be honest, it’s a lot of hard work.

Work Hard, Play Hard, Work Harder

That’s something nineteen-year-old Amber might not have counted on, but Dr. Amber Wise takes the challenge on with a smile. “There’s a lot of misconceptions from outsiders about the cannabis industry. We start early, have a very strict work schedule, punch in punch out. It’s not like we don’t have a good time. It’s just very professional.”

The cannabis industry still has a long way to go in terms of fully understanding the wonders of the cannabis plant. A great deal of research is still needed to help guide processes and procedures across the board, but we’re sure glad to have Amber onboard to help lead the way in chemistry as we continue on our journey.

If you ever have a science-related question about our process or products, Amber is happy to answer them--just send her an email!

Avitas Origins: From Kitchen Table to Cannabis Calling

Here at Avitas, we’re both dreamers and doers. We love our jobs and our customers, and we love that we get to grow the best flower and bring you the most amazing oil on the market. But, you already know all of this. What you may not know is that we might not be here at all if not for some family time, a stunning vision, and a little needed encouragement in a warm and cozy kitchen just five short years ago.

It all started around a kitchen table. Back in 2012 as Washington State weighed the pros and cons of marijuana legalization, Avitas co-founder, Adam, sat in his parent’s kitchen talking pot with his family. He was all for legalization, Adam himself has enjoyed cannabis for many years, but he worried about this new and fragile market. Legal cannabis is a brave new world in America, and Adam soon found himself painting a passionate vision of what he’d like to see happen in this expanding frontier. Adam laughs when he recalls it now, “I didn’t realize it then, but that’s where Avitas was born.”

Adam has a had a long and successful career outside of cannabis. He came up through the ranks as a software engineer at Microsoft before moving into product management at Microsoft and then at Disney and ESPN. He’d seen what truly customer-centric companies could accomplish and slowly but surely, Adam realized that he wanted to create a brand like that in the cannabis world. He wished to build a company that consumers could trust to have their back, and he wanted to help shape how marijuana is grown, distilled, and packaged to help lift the stigma and misinformation that still exists around this amazing plant. He envisioned a company that was committed to a natural, preservative-free product that operated with integrity and was transparent about its process in ensuring the quality of its own flower as well as the quality of the buds it bought from other farms. Adam knew that it was going to be a long, hard-fought journey, but even he couldn’t have known what his future held in store.

At first, the industry was a bit like the Wild West. Regulations were always changing, license requirements were under constant review, and the market itself was incredibly unstable, but Adam persevered. “We stuck to our core tenets: Customers, Quality, Community, and Environment and that’s pulled us through. As a company, we have to be forward thinking and have a true commitment to integrity; otherwise, we’d be nowhere.” No matter how tough things got, Adam kept this commitment to excellence in sight. And slowly but surely, this has shepherded the Avitas family from just the hint of an idea at the kitchen table to one of the leading producer/processors in Washington. We’re so glad to be on this journey. We hope that you’re up for joining us on our adventure into a world of cannabis that not only feels good but does good.