Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

weed

By Kyle Kaminski

June 11, 2024

Evolution Cannabis is on a mission to reshape Michigan’s recreational marijuana industry with cleaner weed—because nobody should have to deal with microwaved cannabis and harmful contaminants in their edibles and concentrates.

BATTLE CREEK—Five years ago, Melanie White-Lavender and her husband, Matt Lavender, started growing weed in their barn in southwest Michigan. It was nothing too fancy, just a small caregiver setup to serve a few patients. But it was driven by a big passion and a deeply rooted personal mission to provide high-quality, clean medicine to Michiganders who needed it most.

Years earlier, Lavender-White’s father had been diagnosed with cancer and, with cannabis, was able to ditch pharmaceuticals and “stay comfortable” during the final years of his life, she said.

Another close family friend who was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle crash had also used the same “magic cookies” to help manage his pain—and has since gone on to make a full recovery.

“We’ve always believed more in the medicine side of cannabis, and treating it like the medicine that it is for so many people,” White-Lavender said. “It’s always been about helping people.”

Those healing experiences with weed were enough for White-Lavender and her husband to quit their day jobs in 2019 to launch their own cannabis business, which they dubbed Evolution Cannabis because of the steady growth and increasing complexity of their cultivation operation.

“And because we believe in evolution, spirituality, and evolving yourself,” White-Lavender said.

Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

Nowadays, the company’s mission remains the same, but it has grown far beyond a small-time caregiver operation. This year, more than 10,000 pounds of weed will be harvested at its 30,000-square-foot cultivation campus on the edge of Battle Creek, White-Lavender said.

An on-site processing lab will also churn out more than 36 million cannabis-infused gummies, which will line the shelves at nearly 200 dispensaries across Michigan. And with two House of Evolution dispensaries open now, and two more set to open this year, White-Lavender and her husband now control virtually every aspect of their own statewide stoner supply chain.

“We just want to send people away with a great cannabis experience,” White-Lavender said. “Really, it’s all about good vibes with us—because don’t just churn and burn through our products. We don’t cut corners. You need to treat these plants right, and a lot of that is just about having the right people, and keeping eyes, and ears, and all the attention on them.”

‘Go Big or Go Home’

Despite the rapid growth, Evolution Cannabis has tried to maintain a steadfast (and often costly) commitment to quality and safety, White-Lavender said. That includes requiring all staff and visitors at the cultivation facility to suit up from head-to-toe in protective gear—and pass through a large, industrial air blower chamber at the entrance—to prevent any outside contamination.

Automating the cultivation process to be controlled by a single iPad also enables the staff to constantly monitor and tinker with light, airflow, temperature, humidity levels, and the flow of water and nutrients to ensure they get the most potent and flavorful harvest possible.

Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

The plants that aren’t hung to dry and packaged into bags are shuttled to the on-site processing laboratory and commercial kitchen, where they’re transformed into vegan and gluten-free edibles—all made from scratch, using nothing but cannabis oil and all-natural flavors and colors.

“Many of our clientele are cancer patients and people with real medical needs, so we always take our time to do things the right way,” White-Lavender said. “That’s super important for us.”

White-Lavender said an attention to detail and obsession with cleanliness—and an ability to control nearly every aspect of the supply chain—has aided in Evolution Cannabis’ success. And when it comes to products, customers can truly smell, taste, and feel the difference, she said.

“Our motto is ‘go big or go home,’ so we’ve just kept going,” White-Lavender said. “We want to go the extra mile to keep our customers safe and to give them a better cannabis experience.”

Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

According to White-Lavender, there isn’t necessarily a handbook for how to grow the best weed or produce the tastiest cannabis-infused edibles. That’s a fine science (and an art) that’s only perfected from years of determination, plenty of experimentation, and a refusal to cut corners.

“We’d have a lot more money if we would’ve cut corners and used dirty distillate or brought in back-door, unlicensed products into our kitchen,” White-Lavender said. “We won’t do it. It’s against our moral compass, and we couldn’t live with ourselves if our products hurt somebody.”

Ditching the Microwave

White-Lavender said Evolution will never remediate its weed—and for customers, that may translate to more flavorful (and potent) cannabis that doesn’t crumble into dust in their grinders.

Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

Remediation is the process of using radiation or other types of technology to remove pests, chemicals, heavy metals, and other contaminants that can be found in cannabis plants after they’re harvested if they aren’t properly cured or cared for during the cultivation process.

It’s a relatively common practice in the cannabis industry that proactively ensures a harvest is able to pass state safety standards—even for growers who may cut corners along the way.

But depending on what technology is used in the remediation process, it’s also known to create undesirable effects. Using radiation to remediate weed, for instance, may negatively affect the flavor, potency, and terpene content of weed, as well as make for overall drier, crumbier buds.

By refusing to use remediation, Evolution Cannabis is essentially betting that its products will be free of contamination the old-fashioned way—and taking the inherently more expensive business risk that some of its products might get trashed, should they fail to pass testing.

Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

But without loading every harvest into a giant microwave oven, Evolution is able to produce a fresher, more flavorful product than many other companies on the market, White-Lavender said.

“Everybody cares about low prices, and it’s getting to the point where some of this bottom-barrel stuff out there could really hurt people,” White-Lavender said. “I’d love to be swimming in money right now, but this isn’t about that. This is about giving people the best—and cleanest—product.”

‘Not Going Anywhere’

As cannabis sales continue to climb in Michigan, White-Lavender said she hopes more customers start to take notice of the brands—like Evolution Cannabis—that put in the extra effort to deliver cleaner weed to the market rather than cut corners to offer lower prices.

It’s something that she hopes to develop into a more formalized “Clean Cannabis Campaign,” including by encouraging other Michigan brands to set similar standards for their products.

“Let’s face it. It’s hard to stay relevant in this market,” she said. “We don’t have giant pockets. We don’t have the same crazy marketing budget as everybody else. We’re keeping things tight because we’re focused on the products, and we care about customers’ pocketbooks as well. We want to offer a high-end product at an affordable price, and that’s not always easy, but we’re not quitters. There’s a reason we’ve been able to come this far, and we’re not going anywhere.”

House of Evolution dispensaries are located in Ann Arbor and Bay City, with two more locations opening soon in Saugatuck and Muskegon Heights. Evolution Cannabis products are also available at about 180 other dispensaries across Michigan. Click here to find one near you.

READ MORE: 7 quick hits of cannabis news from across Michigan

Former Battle Creek caregivers want more Michiganders to care about ‘clean’ weed

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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