But unless you're rich (and you're not -- we will make that assumption), you've surely thought about what an easy life it must be for people who are able to legally grow the stuff, right? After all, nothing pays like drugs -- you'd be like Scarface, without the part where he gets shot at the end. Or maybe you'd keep it small, and just be a laid-back dude hanging with the stoners. In some states, all you need is a license to grow medicinal marijuana and you're set.
Or, maybe not. Before you renew that subscription to High Times and quit your day job, there are some things you need to take into consideration ...
Even Where It's Legal, the Regulations Will Make Your Life Hell
Say you're an aspiring pot grower living in one of the states where medicinal marijuana is legal. First you have to stop and realize what "legal" means. In California, arguably the most lenient of the "legalized" states, they've seen a string of raids on medicinal marijuana dispensaries, even after Obama and the DEA said they wouldn't prosecute legal growers in states that allow it if the number of plants does not exceed 99.
President Obama, seen here demonstrating the largest legally acceptable blunt size.
Confused? Well, there are all sorts of loopholes that can give the DEA an excuse to come down on a grower. For instance, you are not legally allowed to grow or distribute anywhere within 1,000 feet of a school, or more specifically, anywhere where children may gather regularly. That could technically mean a church, a local park, a zoo, a movie theater or even neighbors' houses, if they have children.
And even if you steer clear of all of their rules, there are hundreds of other little conditions to consider, like the number of "mature" plants you are allowed to have (and what qualifies as "mature") and how much "manicured" product you're allowed to carry at any given time. Having it in your home is fine, but legally you can't drive very easily with it in the most lenient states.
"Alright, we'll overlook the pot, but we've got to ticket you for not buckling it up."
But even if the DEA doesn't come knocking, many homeowners' associations have their own stringent regulations that forbid residents from setting up pot farms in the suburbs. Basically, growing weed for a living is like willingly adding your name to the sex offender registry: Your neighbors no longer trust you, and the authorities forbid you from coming into contact with children.
And then there are all of the regulations surrounding the disposal of damn near everything in a grow operation. We'll get into the logistics of growing in a moment, but let's just say there are all sorts of heavily regulated chemicals involved, and waste that is even more heavily regulated. Like synthetic fertilizers. The word "synthetic" is the big operator here, because a lot of them are toxic. Dump that out improperly, or in the wrong area, and a person could be charged with purposefully contaminating the groundwater, which qualifies as terrorism. Is growing weed for a living worth having a Toby Keith song written about you? Think it over.
Don't worry, though -- contaminating plain old river water is perfectly legal.
That doesn't just mean your waste water, either: Your medium (whatever it is you grow your plants in, be it dirt or rock wool) is also contaminated with toxins. Legally, you're supposed to dispose of all of this much like you would toxic waste.
Then, if you navigate that legal minefield, there's still the particular social stigma that goes along with being a marijuana professional. In short, people who think drugs are immoral and outlawed for good reason don't suddenly start thinking more of drug dealers and users just because weed is technically legal. You think you can just keep it from them? You're not going to be leaving home on any daily routine, and your neighbors are going to be asking questions. Expect things like:
"What do you do?"
"So you're basically a wussier version of the guy from Breaking Bad?"
"Do you live alone?"
"Are you planning to murder anyone with a hammer?"
Now ask yourself: How much excuse do you think they will need to call the police on you the moment they think you've stepped out of line?
If you're so dedicated to the task of growing medicinal marijuana that you're willing to deal with all that, then you'll need to buckle down and raise a whole bunch of cash. That's because ...
Getting Started Costs More Than a Used Car
Let's say you find a handful of marijuana seeds in the cushions of your couch. Toss in some dirt and light and you should be on a direct path to indoor weed farming glory, right? Just put the dirt and the seeds into a pot, set it on the windowsill like a spider plant and wait for the magic to happen. Hell, it's like growing money!
Better, even. Smoking cash just gives you a terrible lung inflection.
Well, not quite. We'll address the lights first. We're not talking about buying a four-pack of 100-watt GE bulbs and calling it good. We're talking very specialized, highly powered, eye-burning-bright lights. Unsurprisingly, they retail for a wallet-burning $300 each. Any at-home weed operation will need at least six of these lights if the goal is to make any sort of cash at all.
That's $1,800 spent, and you aren't even high yet.
And then we have the dirt. As in, you really can't use it. Growing pot at home isn't like growing tomato plants on your balcony -- growing in dirt brings all sorts of uninvited guests to the smoke party, like spider mites and other bugs that will damage the plants, and maybe even your health. So if you're serious about growing weed indoors, you need equipment ($850 for each unit, and it usually takes four of these systems to generate enough crop to turn a profit, so we're talking about more than $3,400). That's right, aspiring pot kingpin -- you're more than five grand in the hole before you've grown a single plant.
And we're not done. All of that shit runs on electricity -- an at-home weed farmer faces electric bills that run as much as $1,500 per month. If you aren't lucky enough to have a private well, water bills can scale to similar heights. Then you factor in other random necessities like timers, extension cords, pest control, carbon filters and countless other bells and whistles that keep a grow operation growing. An enterprising young pot farmer will need to come up with nearly $13,000 in investment money just to get started.
Dropping a few seeds in your neighbors salad garden just won't cut it.
OK, so you max out all of your credit cards and come up with the 13 grand. That's all right -- the sweet, sweet weed money is about to come rolling in! Actually, most grow operations don't even turn a profit for three months at least, so every joint sold is going to be paying down start-up debt for a long, long time.
"Here's a quarter pound. Can you put half in my IRA?"
And the money is just part of the cost. Next you have to deal with the fact that ...
It's a Shitload of Hard Work
Have you ever tried to create an environment identical to the outdoors? One meant to sustain not just life, but exceptional life? You know, playing God? It's absolutely as difficult as it sounds, and it's absolutely what you must do to successfully grow weed at home.
He's only laughing because a stray tear could throw off the pH balance.
Plants are living, breathing things that require ideal conditions to thrive. On top of providing all the air flow, 24 hours a day, you'll need an entire room that, in the middle of the day with the lights off, looks like this all over:
That's not nearly as easy as it seems, and it has to be done every time you add a fan or make a correction to a grow room. Then you have the heavy equipment that needs be set up, as well as running high voltage (read: DANGEROUS) wiring and industrial-quality ventilation to your new weed cave.
It looks kind of like a thermos ... and it costs $244.
Basically, you have to be a carpenter, plumber, electrician, gardener and some type of lab technician by the time you're finished just setting up that room. If plumber and electrician stick out as two skills that shouldn't be in the same room with each other at the same time, that's because they really shouldn't. So, if this for some reason sounds like the career path for you, study up on your electric skills, lest you wind up electrocuted to death like this poor fella.
Of course, you can always hire trained people to do all of this work for you, adding to the start-up debt that you've already sold one and a half kidneys to pay.
"So this is for a home welding set-up? In your basement?"
Hey, speaking of dealing with other people ...
Your Life Is Full of Crazy People
Growing marijuana for a living puts a person in a "club" of sorts, and that club is stocked with crazy.
The cost makes trying to run a grow operation alone a near impossibility, which means partnering up with all sorts of sketchy characters to handle things like trimming plants, selling the product and all the other stuff you need help with once you realize you're in way over your head. No matter what the movies may tell you, weed enthusiasts are not comprised entirely of laid-back stoners. For every one of those that you might encounter during the course of a business day, there are probably two or three who are more like the guy who uses an alligator as a guard animal. Probably not the person to bond with over a shared love of Bob Marley and Rastafarian culture.
The ones who reek of Nag Champa are usually safe. But then you've got that to deal with.
When you're dealing with what still amounts to a quasi-black market fringe industry, it's inevitable that some of the people involved will be criminals, and they are going to rip someone off at some point. If you clicked that link, which points to a very brief story about a man who was ripped off by a "friend" in the industry, you may have noticed that it took all of two comments before someone chimed in with a transcript of a scene from the movie Snatch that explains how to properly dispose of a body. If you decide to set up a grow operation, these are your new friends.
And very soon, one of those crazy paranoid types is going to be you. A person immersed in a life of selling drugs, legal or otherwise, is going to live in a constant state of paranoia -- it's just a fact of life. Part of that has to do with constantly walking such a fine line between legal and illegal, knowing that it doesn't take much of a mistake to get tossed in jail and to see your entire investment vanish.
Remember what we said about how easy it is to go astray of the regulations? Well, the police don't need much of an excuse to come in and inspect your operation. Like, for instance, if you have spent the last three hours trimming product. The smell of fresh marijuana being trimmed is almost as pungent as a skunk from the same distance, which is why so many ideas are thrown around to conceal the smell. After handling the plant at all, its scent is on your clothes, your hands and, most importantly, your hair. That pungent smell is enough to warrant a search in some states. And, as we established, even if you've got your license to grow and your prescription blown up to a wall-sized poster, chances are good the police will find a reason to take your entire operation away if they come knocking.
"This smells like either a skunk farm or the devil's lettuce!"
And that's just the cops. What about the threat of home invasion from all those shady types who know your house is full of weed (and, they probably assume, cash)? Growers have been murdered during the process of armed robbery -- and that wasn't an isolated incident.
Then when the police respond to that crime, they start treating you like a criminal, too. It happened to Steve Sarich, a weed activist from Finn Hill, Washington. Five men broke into his home and shot him. When police arrived and spotted his (perfectly legal) grow operation, the crime scene turned into a marijuana raid.
And that's not even the most depressing thing about growing weed for a living. That would be the fact that ...
The Payoff Sucks
After going through all of the bullshit listed here so far, a successful grow operation should come out the other end with five to six pounds of sweet, delicious weed to show for it. Guess what, though: That shit don't buy groceries, and it certainly doesn't pay the bills. So the next step is to take the harvested crops to a dispensary and cash in. And this is precisely where dreams of riches die for most people who enter into this industry.
"I'm sorry sir, but I can't take a jay in exchange for coffee."
As shitty luck would have it, legal cannabis dispensaries don't pay very well. No matter how great the product, the guy behind the counter at that dispensary has seen it and better a million times before. These are licensed professionals doing stacks of paperwork and constantly watching their legal asses as much as anyone entering into the profession should.
At the end of the day, after taxes, prices might not reach much higher than $2,800 a pound. If that sounds like a pretty sweet deal, let this message board full of people who would know far more about the matter reassure you how incorrect you are. When you factor in the exorbitant costs involved with keeping a grow operation going, $2,800 per pound amounts to about $4,200 in profit per month ... and that's before taxes (unless you're one of those legal weed farmers who doesn't bother paying taxes, in which case, enjoy prison) and before splitting the money with all those people brought on to help. And that's if everything goes perfectly, which it never does.
Sometimes the pot decides to smoke itself.
Think about all of the factors earlier -- from the seed to the lights to the water to the temperature to the cops to plain old Murphy's Law. If any one of them goes wrong, it can ruin an entire crop. At best that's costing a few thousand dollars in baby plants, at worst costing an entire mature crop, meaning the loss of all the time and the rent and the power bills that went into growing it. And all of this occurs while you're trying to pay off those start-up costs we mentioned earlier. You're learning on the job, and every mistake costs money.
It's at this point that most people decide all the time and effort wasn't worth it, leaving them with not much more than a few years of empty space on the "previous jobs" section of their resume. That might not all sound bad, except you're not 18 years old and behind the gym smoking pot anymore, you're an adult now, and you've come to the painful realization that you permanently crippled your ability to buy a home and become an actual member of society anytime in the next few years.
"We're really looking for someone with more of a background in Coke dealing, but thanks for your time."
Buzz kills don't get much bigger than that...