Disclaimer: This article is intended for readers age 21 and older.
Ingenuity is thoroughly entwined in American ideals. Take for instance the classic example of the Wright brothers, bicycle shop owners who were the first to fly. Or George Washington Carver, botanist, who championed the small-scale farmer and changed the way we think about crop rotation. American ingenuity is not just reserved for thinktanks and well-funded laboratories. It comes out of basements, backyards and garages, developed by everyday people. With the recent legalization of cannabis, American ingenuity is expressing itself through a creative group right here in Olympia—Jeremy Howard, a manager at Gypsy Greens, and a father-son team; fisherman Randy Prengel; and small business owner Trent Prengel. They are the creators of the Sluice Box, a cannabis joint rolling machine.
In an unassuming office in West Olympia, I meet Randy, Trent and Jeremy. While I look over the machine and get set up for the interview, the three men boisterously engage in personal conversation. It’s easy to see how their friendship evolved into a business partnership. Their banter gives me a good idea about how their invention, the Sluice Box, came about in the first place, probably in a conversation much like one they are having while I get prepared to interview them.
As each of them describe it, they saw a problem, a need that wasn’t being fulfilled in the emerging industry, and they set out to do something about it. Many people ask why there is a need for the joint rolling Sluice Box in the first place, when there are already plenty of cigarette rolling machines out there. “Cannabis is not tobacco,” explains Randy, “tobacco is much more uniform across the board and dry, not like cannabis.” Cannabis has variations between the strains and even between each harvest. In the flower of the cannabis is a cell called the trichome, which excretes resin that contains the majority of the cannabinoids—the active compounds of cannabis. The sticky resin is one of the challenges to creating such a machine.
The design of the Sluice Box is relatively simple. An aluminum case houses a motor that vibrates. Atop the case sits an interchangeable polycarbonate cartridge with holes drilled to customer specification. Each cartridge can hold 400 cones, pre-rolled papers that encase the joint. Once the cones are loaded into place, the cannabis is spread across the top of the cartridge, and the motor is switched on, uniformly distributing the product to all of the cones. The filling process takes about five minutes. A special tamper can be used to pack the cannabis down, then the cartridge can be removed and each joint is then twisted closed by the processer.
The machine is similar to other machines coming out in the industry, but with some big advantages over their few competitors. Unlike other machines, the removable cartridges can increase speed and flexibility of production. The Sluice Box can accommodate any paper cone, not just ones specifically manufactured for the machine. It also comes with dividers which allow different varieties to be packed at the same time, or a smaller amount than 400 to be packed with a uniform distribution. The removable cartridges make cleaning simple because it can be placed in a dishwasher, pressure washed, or handwashed.
The cartridges are completely food grade, made of sturdy polycarbonate and stainless steel. That is important to a lot of tier one and tier two producers, explains Trent, whose smaller scale makes them somewhat like the microbrewers of the industry. Loyal customers to tier one and tier two businesses are looking for a specific quality in their cannabis products. They want to know how it is grown, what sprays or fertilizers are used in production, and what the cannabis comes in contact with as it is processed.
Each member of the team brings something different to the table. Jeremy is a manager at the Gypsy Greens Olympia store. His position helps him understand the needs and expectation of cannabis consumers. He also has many professional relationships with producers. This network of relationships has given him a good pulse on what is happening in the industry.
“I love entrepreneurs and small businesses,” says Jenna Rodriguez, co-owner of Gypsy Greens, “and we love to see our employees doing big things!” The Sluice Box is already generating waves in the industry, Jenna adds, and “we are all proud of Jeremy.”
Trent has his own 502 license and works in the production end. His hands-on experience working with cannabis helps him to understand the complexities of the plant as well as the challenges faced by producers, especially the challenges for smaller scale producers in the tier one and tier two categories.
Randy is a bit more difficult to put your finger on. He seems to be part leader, part problem solver. When he talks about the machine, you can see the gears turning in his head as he thinks about ways to improve the design and meet the needs of their customers.
While the Sluice Box is no doubt an amazing piece of innovation, the dynamic of the team is the truly special part of what goes on when the three come together. It is something authentically American, ingenuity arising from collaboration, a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.
Working on the Sluice Box has inspired the team with other ideas that they plan to start working on soon, but for now, the Sluice Box is keeping them busy working with producers from around the country and internationally.
Gypsy Greens Olympia
234 Division St NW Olympia
Warning: There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product. Cannabis can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Cannabis has intoxicating effects and may be habit-forming. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug. For use only by adults 21 and older. Keep out of the reach of children. Persons who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use cannabis.