Most individuals don’t know about VJ Group, but many have directly or indirectly interacted with its X-ray technologies at the doctor’s office or at a dental appointment, or via having their bags scanned at airports, or even by using technologies whose hardware components were inspected via X-ray scan.
As a provider of not only X-ray systems, but also of components for other X-ray system companies, the New York-based VJ Group noticed the players in the radiation remediation such as companies who design systems for blood remediation were entering the cannabis space. After some internal deliberation, the company tapped Mark Clemons, general manager of its VJ Electronix division, to launch and run VJ Scientific, the company’s cannabis remediation technology group.
“We got into it because we are always looking for new opportunities in anything to do with X-ray,” Clemons told Cannabis Business Executive in an interview. “We developed this new product literally in about six months,” before debuting the system at the 2022 MJ Biz Conference.
Backed by a company with more than $100 million in revenue with more than 400 employees worldwide, VJ Scientific is a new and promising entry into the cannabis remediation arena, with plenty to prove.
Not Radioactive Weed
Irradiation can get a bad rap, Clemons shared, pointing out that a portion of the cannabis industry “still believes that there’s leftover radiation on the cannabis after radiation. And that’s totally untrue.”
X-ray remediation works by exposing the cannabis (and any potential contaminants) to radiation levels high enough to destroy the contaminant’s cellular DNA, but low enough to not impact cannabinoid or terpene content.
A 2022 National Institute of Health (NIH) study “showed that X-ray treatment of Aspergillus contaminated cannabis flower at 2.5 kGy has minimal effects on THCA, Delta9-THC and terpene concentrations.” At approximately 8kGy, cannabinoids and terpenes start degrading more rapidly, according to NIH study results.
The dose of radiation that something, like cannabis, receives in a system like VJ Scientific’s, is a function of how long it’s exposed to the radiation energy. However, it doesn’t mean the entire batch receives that dose. X-ray is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, like light. And like light, X-rays will diffuse when passing through materials and lose strength. To account for this, radiation specialists calculate what is known as a dose uniformity ratio (DUR)–the ratio of the maximum irradiation dosage divided by the minimum dose delivered. VJ Scientific’s DUR is less than 2, meaning a 5 kGY dose delivered to the outside of the batch would still be approximately 2.5 kGY in the middle, which is still powerful enough to kill contaminants, “without being overly powerful,” Clemons described. This low DUR means that the system can optimize its cycle time and not overexpose or underexpose areas within the batch.
VJ Scientific achieves this DUR through a patent-pending dual radiation source design that irradiates the cannabis from both top and bottom. Included in that patent application also is an automatic dosing system that optimizes cycle time for a particular batch by considering things like batch density, volume, and water content, among other factors, to determine how long the cycle time should be to achieve a total dose, such as 2.5 kGY.
The company built its system in a container-agnostic way. “I wanted operators, customers to be able to use the bin, the tray, the bag, whatever they’re already using in their process,” Clemons said. “I don’t wanna force them into putting it into something else.”
The unit is also safe for operators, both by using a fraction of the safe radiation limit set by the FDA, and through the entire unit being fitted with lead lining, the GM said.
The company is still a new player in the cannabis industry–Clemons acknowledged his company is still proving itself in this industry and that VJ Scientific only has a handful of devices currently in the market. And while the NIH study was promising for X-ray remediation technologies, Clemons is looking to collect more field data on his company’s unit.
To help with those efforts, the company is turning to its early customers. “We’re looking to partner with people that would like to evaluate the product,” Clemons shared. “In exchange for a lot of data from them, we’ll give them a giant discount.”
Early System Upgrades
Clemons main goal with the first iteration of the company’s system was to not “overly complicate the machine,” he said. “It was very clear to the team: I want it simple, simple, simple.
“This is part of the reason of getting customer feedback: Do they really need that?”
Despite being in the market since November 2022, VJ Scientific is already working on improvements for its decontamination system based on early customer feedback. For example, Clemons and his team are already working on making the distance between the radiation sources and the cannabis adjustable so operators can reduce the cycle time on smaller batches.
“If you move [the radiation source] half the distance to the target, the energy level is squared,” Clemons said, adding that the total needed radiation dosage can then be achieved in a shorter amount of time. “Those [fixtures] will be motorized at some point.”
Another customer-recommended upgrade will look to add automation features to the unit, including the ability to run the system without physical oversight. In the new iteration, “you can put eight or 10 bins or bags in it, and the machine is going to automatically pass the completed remediated cannabis out, and a new batch will go in automatically. So as long as you keep that carousel of bins loaded, it’ll run 24/7,” Clemons described.
As a self-described “process guy,” Clemons tries to consider not only how the system will be used by cultivators, but also who will be operating those. “There’s a lot of turnover [in the cannabis industry]. We wanted to make the user interface super simple. … It can run on any platform: It can run on the machine itself, which is a PC-based system. It can run on your desktop, it can run on an iPhone, it can run on an Android,” Clemons said.
In the spirit of keeping the operator interface simple, supervisors are able to “create a specific program for that specific strain or batch offline, so when the operator goes to scan the barcode on the side of the bin or bag, it automatically references that recipe and runs it. All they have to do is scan the barcode on the bin or bag, scan their employee ID badge so they know who put it into the machine, close the door, and hit go.”
Approaching The Market
Having officially launched only a few months ago, VJ Scientific is still homing in on its system’s retail price. That said, Clemons expects the X-ray system to be comfortably priced in the six-figure range. As mentioned, discounts are offered to cultivators willing to share data with VJ Scientific, and the manufacturer can also help find financing options, if needed, Clemons said.
Rather than immediately target the largest multi-state operators (MSOs), Clemons said he “would rather go after the craft guys and the process guys.
“I really appreciate them because those are the companies that are going to be successful–the ones that really understand their process well, what’s important, what’s not, what to spend money on, what not to. … That to me is really the sweet spot. I’m not really interested in going after the Walmarts, unless they have some products that are in that real differentiated space.”
While the coming year will be challenging as the market undergoes some correction, Clemons still thinks the “long-term legs” of the industry are promising, especially in international markets. “I’m looking forward to Europe because they seem to be hedging towards everything’s gotta be decontaminated or remediated,” adding that VJ Scientific also has been fielding calls from growers in Australia, Columbia, and Israel.
Over the short-term, however, Clemons and his team will be working to bridge the education gap on X-ray remediation as they continue to improve upon their solution.
VJ Group is “a 30-plus-year-old, privately held company that is a leader in X-ray technology. They sell to the industrial markets, the medical market, the defense markets. … [The cannabis industry] is interesting because it’s an industrial piece of equipment, but it also feels like retail.”
Brian MacIver is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also is Partner and Director of Strategic Communications for Guerrera: The Agency, a boutique communications and marketing agency serving small businesses, nonprofits and progressive groups. He can be reached at [email protected]
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