Six months after Johnathon Guest started growing cannabis in Houston, Alaska, he walked outside of his growing facility one day and a man pulled up.
The man had driven about three and a half hours from Hope with a simple message.
“He told me that it’s the best product that he had ever had and he was going to be a lifetime customer,” Guest said.
It was a huge compliment for Guest, who also took it as a challenge. He decided to continue to earn customer loyalty by consistently growing top-shelf bud and to innovate using new methods and new technologies.
“I am 100% about the plant,” he said.
Since bringing his first flower to market in April of 2018, Guest has branched out into manufacturing with Choice Extracts and more recently into retail. High-Mark Cannabis, one of Alaska’s newest cannabis stores, opened in Wasilla in February.
Guest employs 11 people across the three companies. His cultivation company, Guest Services, has about 6,000 square feet with 12 strains in rotation. The retail store, in which he has a business partner, is about 400 square feet and carries from six to 10 strains, including weed from other growers.
“We are very, very picky on what we put on our shelves,” Guest said.
He is always on the hunt for new strains and experiments with new ways to grow cannabis to maximize volume and other qualities.
Chasing a dream
Guest started growing weed for medical use in Michigan about six years before moving to Alaska shortly after the successful 2014 ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
“If it wouldn’t have passed here, I would have moved somewhere else,” he said.
Guest arrived with a background in the food and gardening industries. He studied food marketing and consumer packaged goods at Western Michigan University, he said. He worked in restaurants, including as a prep cook, and later in greenhouses and at garden supply companies.
Strain selection and hard work are the keys to Guest’s success.
“Genetics are everything,” he told Alaska Cannabist during a recent tour of his facilities.
Guest operates a strain testing facility where he evaluates new strains to determine yield, potency, terpene profiles and then he puts the plants through stress tests to see what happens when the temperature is too hot or the air is too humid.
“It’s pretty exciting to see how far we are able to push our plants to produce quality product,” he said.
Once a new strain passes Guest’s rigorous examination, it is then taken to the grow facility for mass production.
Harvesting is done monthly once each strain has had two months to flower.
Guest described his process for drying and curing the plants. The trick is to cut some leaves but leave some on the plant, he said.
“When you harvest a plant, and you cut the plant from its root zone, and hang it, it’s not going to finish metabolizing the sugars inside the plant for roughly three to four days,” he said. “During those three to four days, you want to have food available for the plant. And since the root zone is no longer attached, you need to leave some of the leaves where the food is stored naturally. You want the simple sugars to be available during the drying process, so that the plant can die in a pleasant state.”
Guest’s most popular product is Lemon Ice Pucker, which is known for its flavor and effects—a euphoric and energetic high.
“It’s sweet with a lemon tartness,” Guest said.
Another popular strain offered at High-Mark Cannabis is called Guicy G.
“It’s got great appearance. It’s got a very smooth but rich smell. That flavor transfers through to the smoke. It’s got great bud structure,” Guest said.
He combines the strains Lemon Ice Pucker and Guicy G to make an extract known as Guicy Lemons.
“You get that fruit note, and then you get the smooth cream,” Guest said.
He worked almost every day while starting his cultivation company.
“Cultivation has been my passion for a long time,” he said.
Growing an empire
His expansion into the retail cannabis industry has come with challenges. Guest had hoped to open a store in Tok and serve that area along with people driving into Alaska from Canada. Tok is 93 miles from the Alaska-Canada border.
The Tok store fell through after Guest failed to get enough signatures on a petition to show the Alaska Marijuana Control Board that he had community support. By then, he had purchased equipment to open the store. His luck changed with a phone call and a proposal that led Guest to open a store in Wasilla.
The name of the store, High-Mark Cannabis, is a nod to one of Guest’s favorite pastimes, snowmachining. Colorful space- and weed-themed wall murals painted by artists Amber Church and Kendra Nelson give the store’s interior a visually stunning look that sets it apart from many other retail cannabis shops throughout the state.
Guest plans to keep innovating by expanding his cultivation into outdoor greenhouses. He is also currently developing a new extract with hopes to offer exceptional flavor at a lower price point.
Guest Services is currently mass producing two strains, Carl’s Shoes and Florida Pie, for distribution at stores throughout Alaska.
Cannabis grown by Guest has been sold at 60-70 retail stores, including stores in Fairbanks, throughout Southcentral Alaska and in Nome, Kodiak and Juneau.
“I would not survive if people didn’t like my product,” Guest said.