Cannabis Interview – Michael Sassano – Founder Solaris Farms
INTERVIEW: Michael Sassano (Solaris Farms)
Want to know more about one of the world’s largest greenhouses for growing cannabis?
We sat down with Michael Sassano, Founder of Solaris Farms to talk about his journey into cannabis, operating a 350,000 sq. ft greenhouse in the middle of the desert, relationships between dispensaries and grows, the future of the United States and its relationship to the rest of the world, technology and more. Here’s what Michael had to say:
Michael Sassano Founder of Solaris Farms
Cannabis Magazine: Michael, we’re excited to connect with you and learn more about your journey as well as Solaris Farms? We see you had an extensive background in business. What was it that made you decide to move into the cannabis space that you saw so appealing?
Michael Sassano: As an investor/trader and developer, early on I used my investment knowledge to do analysis and learn about the industry. I found that information was not as thorough as I would like, so I began meeting with the earliest legal growers in the industry to see what opportunities existed for investment.
The more I learned, the more I realized that I could use my knowledge of real estate development to design and build facilities.
But before I started, I traveled and met the different recreational communities, growers, patients this was helping, spent time with farmers in the agricultural business, and worked with various companies. I made many friends along the path. I even got the opportunity to travel the world looking for greenhouse designs, technology, advice, and knowledge. The answer to your question is that everything appealed as a complete package, and I had the skills to make a large scale cannabis facility and company
Cannabis Magazine: You have also been an early stage investor in numerous grows. How did that help you create your vision for Solaris Farms, which is set to be 350,000 square feet of an advanced high tech desert greenhouse (the largest and more technologically advanced desert cannabis greenhouse cultivation operation in the state of Nevada?
Michael Sassano: Adding to the above answer, you have to start small, learn everything, and hire the most competent people to embark on a large scale project like Solaris Farms.
This requires speaking with owners and workers in the industry. As an investor, you are able to get much deeper into existing companies than just reading the internet. This was true especially in the early days, because most all cultivators avoided the lime-light.
Cannabis Magazine: Can you talk to us a little bit about cultivation and cost-effective building and management of greenhouses as well as the vision for Solaris as a whole?
Michael Sassano: The important thing for investors is profitability. This is a business at the end of the day. If you can build for under $100 a square foot in the city or under $50 a square foot in country, you are doing well. And if you can reduce costs, like water and electricity, and automate specific functions, this is most of the battle of costs to produce.
We are targeting under $100 per sq ft building since we are in the city, and under $200 per pound costs. We chose to be in the city because of the talent we can attract. Greenhouses have the ability to control the environment better than outdoor grows, the lowest cost producers, and has cost savings from lower electricity to indoor grows because there is natural light and no air-conditioning, which are extremely high costs.
When Solaris was first conceived almost 4 years ago, 350,000 sq. ft greenhouses for cannabis was uncharted territory. Canopy, then Tweeds, bought a similar sized existing greenhouse to convert it for cannabis-use during this planning period, so we knew we were on the right track with large scale grows.
Because the design is unique to the Arabic desert region, with a top shading system that shades the entire structure during extreme heat, we can combat heat factors very well.
There are many advantages to growing in Las Vegas compared to northern latitude grows. The dry environment in Las Vegas helps the evaporative cooling perform optimally. There are also less contaminants due to the lack of humidity. If you are in a stringent lab tested environment, Nevada is the gold standard for consumer protection, but maybe overly protective as some things don’t make sense anymore and are not harmful.
Cannabis Magazine: Where do you see the relationship between dispensaries and grows going given the increasing demand overall? And what do you believe will happen in the future with dispensaries?
Michael Sassano: Although probably far away for us, in Canada they went from mail and internet only to brick and mortar. Now, Walmart is applying to distribute like a dispensary in Canada.
In Europe, Asia, and South America the pharmacies are distributing the product for now. These are massive networks already established in most all areas. The US market has lagged in development and revenues due to slower- than-expected build outs of dispensaries.
For growers and brands it would be great for more sales outlets. And definitely consumers and patients deserve more accesses.
So eventually, just like CVS entered selling CBD, these large corporations with their lobbying dollars will want to get involved once federal legalization happens.
As we see in Vegas, lounges have been approved, and there is a close nexus with dispensaries. The evolution of dispensary lounges as a destination seems a logical trend to continue as States develop. The industry is in the hands of politicians as far as the future of dispensaries goes, but things are developing and even California is cognizant that the outreach and addition of more dispensaries is a must.
Cannabis Magazine: We’re taking bets on when the U.S. will legalize cannabis at the federal level. When do you believe that will happen and why?
Michael Sassano: Every year I have been wrong. So you would keep taking my money on your bet, because every year I say this year is our year. With the entire world legalizing, I’m going to continue to say this year when asked, whatever year that is. Need to stay consistent on my losing streak.
Cannabis Magazine: Then let’s definitely place that bet. (laughter)
Cannabis Magazine: How quickly are we seeing corporate America coming into this industry?
Michael Sassano: They are already trying to find their place. Coca-Cola’s CEO did a great interview a few months ago explaining what a company like his is looking for: something that can be scaled, safe, and can be taken everyday. Cannabis touches over 18 industries directly and there is a place and strategy for everyone.
Cannabis Magazine: Do you think Corporate America understands the magnitude and differences of this industry as it rose from culture and morphed from science?
Michael Sassano: No. They have their own agenda and each company and industry group will have a different niche. And the culture will be different for many age groups and needs.
Cannabis Magazine: How do you see cannabis on a global scale? Right now Canada is making some very clear, distinct moves, Israel is top for scientific research and Europe and Latin America are making moves as well. Where do you see America in all of this?
Michael Sassano: America is losing their competitive advantage with archaic views and archaic laws. It is very sad.
Since 1991, we had the genetic advantage over Europe and South America. And California was very progressive early on in this process.
Canada now has all the money coming to them. But the US will always be a leader and innovator. And when the dam breaks open, the trend will reverse. It’s a fast race but it’s also a marathon.
Cannabis Magazine: Are we more advanced in the U.S. with our technology? If so, why?
Michael Sassano: That’s complicated; yes and no. There have been amazing robotic style greenhouses built in Canada, but the technology is US-born.
So, modifying our advancements for cannabis growing and research is an extension of technology from other US industries and processing. From agriculture to food preparation, we have always had the technological edge. Cannabis and products uses similar methods and technology.
Cannabis Magazine: Can you talk to us a little bit more about taxation and opportunity zones with cannabis?
Michael Sassano: This is a very long topic and very new. One way to look at this for our industry is that many people have paper wealth by way of stock options.
We used to be rebels with a cause, now we are rebels with a stock option clause. When you sell these, there will be significant taxes to pay. The opportunity zone allows you to defer your taxes and make another investment with 100% of the money you make.
If you can invest into a company like Solaris Farms, which is in an opportunity zone and in the cannabis space, you can grow your money at a much higher percentage than normal retail estate.
And in 10 years, you can sell and pay no taxes on the entire gain. This is a monster benefit because you firstly invest all your money instead of let’s say 70% of your money, since you won’t pay taxes on the investment.
Then you grow an investment let’s say 30X compared to 3X of traditional investment.
Then you keep all that gain. It is designed to develop undeveloped areas and increase jobs around the US. That increased activity will improve areas and improve the economy for all.
Cannabis Magazine: That’s incredible! What are some of the biggest “next steps” that need to happen in the U.S. to continue building on this industry?
Michael Sassano: We just need the politicians to do their job, we will take it from there. US entrepreneurs are very capable to build this industry once the basics laws and framework is clear. And 100% non-violent offenders need their records cleaned and most offenses around this industry should be decriminalized.
Source: Marijuana Stocks
Cannabis Magazine: What do you think are the three to segments of growth in this industry over the next 3 years?
Michael Sassano: Growing, production and distribution. The model is set. Medicine will takes its own path.
Cannabis Magazine: Will this country be able to supply the demand of a federally legalized plant once it becomes legal?
Michael Sassano: Eventually, sure. But not with current infrastructure and limited distribution points.
Cannabis Magazine: How important do you think the internet will be in the shaping of this industry as it moves forward? What are some of the boundaries now with online services and cannabis?
Michael Sassano: For years cannabis has been clawing through the internet and large corporations in social media have censured it. Those boundaries are breaking through and like any industry, outreach and advertising is a must. The most significant need in my mind is education and consumer protection.
One bad apple spoils the bunch and the lack of information hurts consumer confidence. We will get there eventually. More open source information will help everyone.
Cannabis Magazine: Can you share with us some things you’re about to launch or are coming up next for you and Solaris?
Michael Sassano: We are building out more buildings on our property which is in the opportunity zone. Vegas is the hottest market for marketing and brand recognition. Expect to see more outreach by us as we start scaling up and improving our genetics.
Cannabis Magazine: Thanks for talking with us Michael!
Michael Sassano: My pleasure guys! Thanks for having me!