How Talent and Innovation Keeps Flower at Native Roots Ahead of the Curve: Director of Cultivation Operations Jason MacDonald

In a pioneering market like Colorado, what does it take for a cannabis business to become a fixture in the marketplace while growing year after year?

Established in 2010, Native Roots Cannabis Co. is one of Colorado’s most successful vertically integrated medical and adult-use cannabis operators. An independently held dispensary chain, its 20 locations serve thousands of customers every day and has the state’s largest number of registered patient members. Over the years, Native Roots has won national recognition for sustainable business practices, retail design, high-quality products and employment practices. Native Roots creates nearly 50 products, including concentrates, vapes, flower, pre-rolls, shorties, infused blunts and mints; and has three brands: Revel, Spectra and Mr. Moxey’s. 

In this exclusive Leafwire Q&A with Director of Cultivation Operations Jason MacDonald, we discuss how Native Roots stays innovative and competitive through its evolving approach to cultivation, post-harvest processing, research and development, and product effects testing.

Leafwire: What is your background? What led you to growing cannabis?

Jason MacDonald: Believe it or not, I’ve been a grower all my life. It’s in my blood – as far back as I know, there are farmers in my family. I got a degree in biochemistry from the University of Colorado and was on the path to go to medical school. But in 2009, the day before I received my MCAT scores, I got my first job consulting in cannabis. They paid me such a ridiculous amount for something I saw as fairly simple, I decided to switch paths. 

I grew medical cannabis as a caregiver and consulted for companies and individuals looking to grow at home. In 2015, I was hired on the spot by Native Roots to build the irrigation system at the Mothership, our main cultivation facility. Over the next year, I built a nutrient line with the head of sciences, developed strains in the tissue culture program, facilitated product as a bay manager, and landed in the head grower position. Now I am the Director of Cultivation Operations, overseeing all cultivation and post-harvest operations at both of our cultivation facilities. Native Roots has the largest indoor grow operation in Colorado with 75,000 plants when combining both facilities. At the time it was built, it was the largest in the U.S., which was humbling and very exciting to be a part of.

LW: What sets Native Roots flower apart from others in the market?

JM: The brain trust we have at Native Roots includes a lot of really talented individuals operating in the cultivation and post-harvest spaces, and that expertise allows us to stand out. Our teams are constantly researching, growing and testing new strains and techniques. We operate in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, and the team likes to swing big for the bleachers with innovative experimentation and new products. I am a firm believer in building a team full of individuals that are smarter and more talented than I am in their areas of expertise – this is how we grow and stay competitive as an organization. 

LW: Native Roots recently launched its Gold, Onyx and Green cannabis labels – can you tell us the differences between each? 

JM: For our relaunched labels, we hand-picked and grew each strain with strain-specific cultivation methods to maximize potency, flavor and quality. All strains undergo our proprietary curing process that eliminates rapid terpene evaporation and discoloration, maximizing cannabinoid content. Before being selected, each strain is tested extensively by our team. The final strains selected fall into three flower tiers: Gold, Onyx and Green. Green Label uses all of these growing and post-harvest upgrades to offer higher quality flower at an economical price. Gold and Onyx label strains are hung dry and hand-trimmed to preserve trichomes where high concentrations of psychoactive compounds reside, maintaining beauty and potency. After the curing process, Gold and Onyx strains are hand packed to preserve trichomes. Our premium Gold Label strains are grown from seed and offer a minimum of 24% THC potency. Gold Label flower is packaged in glass drams that block UV rays and are non-porous, smell-proof and airtight, preserving the bud. All strains are available at our 20 locations across Colorado.

LW: Do you have any favorite strains? Why?

JM: I really like Queen Mother Goji. I don’t know what it is about that flower but it gets me ridiculously high. It’s nice to shut down every now and then. We just got the GMO strain, and it’s really tasty, it offers a smooth high that I’ve really enjoyed.

LW: How do you identify the strains you’re going to grow? How is your team involved?

JM: Native Roots has research and development departments at both grow facilities. At one facility, we focus on popping seeds and monitoring each strain/phenotype for specific traits during the grow process. Once we find one that ticks all the boxes in terms of traits, stability, yield, etc., we clone the plant and start testing it for production. The clone is flowered three separate times and each pheno is monitored closely for different traits. Next, the selected clones go to R&D at the Mothership, our main grow. Only a lucky few make the final cut. The team is involved in seed popping, pheno hunting, production testing, consumption testing – every step from beginning to end. The process from seed pop to going into production takes roughly two years. 

LW: What is your approach to cultivation, and how is it different?

JM: My approach to cultivation is constant experimentation. There are 1,001 ways to grow cannabis well. Even if you’ve got something good going, you can always make it better. This industry is very competitive – if you aren’t constantly experimenting, you will fall behind. Stagnation is poison for innovation.

LW: How do you preserve the buds after harvest before they get to the customer?

JM: Buds are only packaged just before going to store shelves so they are as fresh as possible. Prior to packaging, we use a storage bag developed by Grove Bags, which retains the gases we want while releasing the gases we don’t. It is similar to produce bags that keep your peaches fresher longer, except for cannabis. Cannabis in Grove Bags maintains peak quality for several months, but it is packaged and off store shelves much sooner than that.

LW: What is the Mood State Matrix? What led you to go in this direction with your customer experience?

JM: Rather than simply classifying a strain as Sativa, Indica or Hybrid, we wanted to offer our customers a more personalized experience. Now our budtenders can lead customers and patients through the Mood State Matrix, which classifies strains based on effects such as sleep, relax, focus, energize and uplift. The Mood State Matrix was designed by an engineer after a comprehensive digital analysis on cannabis effects descriptions, extensive group testing on each strain, and mathematical modeling around results to ensure consistency and accuracy with the final five descriptors. The Mood State Matrix is a suggested guide and effects cannot be guaranteed. 

LW: What other tech investments has Native Roots made that support growth?

We have made several investments around testing equipment, lighting, water and energy usage. The RADSource uses photonic decontamination technology to ensure flower passes all state testing regulations. We are working on adding a CoGeneration plant that will allow us to produce our own electricity. A CoGeneration plant is more efficient than a conventional power plant since the heat produced during electricity generation is captured and not wasted. CoGeneration means less energy waste, less emissions and lower bills. We are also moving away from reverse osmosis (RO) water–which requires two gallons of water to make one RO gallon–to plain tap water. RO was the industry standard five years ago, but internal research has shown that filtered tap water works just as well for our plants. We are always testing new lighting solutions and a switch to LED systems allowed us to save two megawatts of power per year over our previous lighting solutions. 

How can folks find out more information?

You can follow me on Leafwire. You can also find out more about Native Roots’ products and locations at

Older Post
Newer Post