For the home grower, this matters much less, and Graf says it helps someone develop their appreciation for the plant. Amid rising interest in home grows, companies have developed home grow pods controlled by smartphone apps and other more modest growing kits and accessories. With strong weed no longer hard to find, home growing is a chance for connoisseurs to grow for CBD, a chemical commonly associated with the plant’s medicinal properties, or for a plant’s terpene profile (bouquet).
T he Canadian government, which is likely to legalize cannabis nationwide this summer, said it planned to allow home grows of up to four marijuana plants, which might yield 5lb in a year to an experienced grower, and is certainly consumable by an experienced smoker.
Allowing it, police say, enables criminals to hide in plain sight. For law-abiding growers it could invite burglaries, since their stash is worth $1,000 a pound and easy to resell. Firefighters worry about the blazing hot lightbulbs growers use and their elaborate electrical set-ups.
As legalization spreads, more cannabis enthusiasts are naturally going to want to try cultivation for themselves. The 2018 National Gardening Survey found 15% of US households would grow marijuana at home if it was legal. But, along with edibles, home growing is generally among the most contentious topics within the legalization debate.
In response, the Canadian Real Estate Association hit the panic button and called for a nationwide moratorium on home growing until it can be better studied. The group says home grows could deplete property values, and also raise rents, especially for low-income tenants. Supporters of the law say four plant grows pose minimal risk.
How to grow your own weed.
For now, one place which has accepted home grow is Vermont. Of the nine US states which have fully legalized, Vermont is the only one not to allow a commercial industry. Instead, the state will allow possession and home growing, up to six plants, including two flowered females.
The plants can attract unappetizing blights like spider mites, fungus gnats, powdery mildew and grey mold, also called bud rot. And the odor can annoy neighbors. The most vocal opponents of home growing may be the Quebec government which has said it will not allow home grow immediately, as part of an effort to legalize at its own pace.
“There’s an empowerment that comes from being able to do it yourself,” said Nichole Graf, who left New York City with her partner in 2013 to start a marijuana farm in Washington state. Growing, she said, would also be useful if the administration went after the industry and pushed the drug back to the illegal market. With her business partners, she co-authored Grow Your Own: Understanding, cultivating and enjoying cannabis, a nicely illustrated and eco-minded introduction.
Cannabis is a sexed plant; the drug is the flower from the female. The hard to detect presence of a male plant can ruin the flower produced by a whole room of females. To avoid pollination, large-scale marijuana grows typically use clones instead of seeds, and Graf recommends novice growers to begin with clones as well. The wrong lighting can also be ruinous for a very expensive crop.
Marijuana growing can be relatively straightforward or “as complicated as you want to make it”, Graf said. Like so many aspects of cannabis, this is a culture advanced largely by solitary men, deeply invested in their competitive world.
That’s probably a few years off though.
Conversations about variation in soil substitutes, light spectra and humidity are frequent and achieve Warholian feats of boredom. They’re also potentially very important. As a high-value crop, cannabis may attract investment into lighting, water management and other agricultural technologies that might go ignored when the crop is $2 heads of lettuce. These new technologies are environmentally friendly and potentially earth-shattering politically, since they could transfer agriculture to cities.
“It’s not rocket science,” she said, but it does involve some knowhow.
But home growing has its pleasures. Like tomatoes or carrots, growing one’s own cannabis is cheaper than buying it, and a chance to learn something.
Marijuana won’t be anything new to Vermont; it is, after all, the state that gave the world Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and the jam band Phish. But the opioid-ravaged state sought to create a buffer between itself and a new for-profit intoxicant, instead making it legal but not readily available. It’s practically un-American to postpone commerce for the sake of the public good, another reason why Vermont’s experiment with growing your own is worth watching.
“It’s just commercialism at its finest,” he says. “Let the best survive. That’s just the way it goes in capitalism. That’s just the way it goes.”
Wholesale sun-grown weed fell from $1,500 a pound last summer to as low as $700 by mid-October. On store shelves, that means the price of sun-grown flower has been sliced in half to those four-buck grams.
So Morse closed his shop: “We paid our creditors and that was that. That was the end of it.”
“The price per pound that it costs us to raise this product is significantly higher than the hundred dollars a pound,” says Duyck. (A little light math points to a $250-per-unit production cost.) “Currently, we’re operating at a $15,000-per-month loss,” Duyck says.
A recent Sunday afternoon at the Bridge City Collective cannabis shop in north Portland saw a steady flow of customers.
Little wonder: a gram of weed was selling for less than the price of a glass of wine.
“This time last year, it was basically all mom-and-pop shops,” says Mason Walker, CEO of Cave Junction cannabis farm East Fork Cultivars. “Now there are five or six companies that own 25 or 30%. Stores are selling for pennies on the dollar, and people are losing their life savings in the process.”
“Competition around us was fierce, and the company started losing money, and it wasn’t worth it anymore,” Morse says. “At our peak, we had 20 employees. When we closed, we had six.”
Mom-and-pop farms are accepting lowball offers to sell to out-of-state investors, and what was once a diverse – and local – market is increasingly owned by a few big players. And frantic growers face an even greater temptation to illegally leak excess grass across state lines – and into the crosshairs of US attorney general Jeff Sessions’ justice department.
Because the federal government does not recognize legal marijuana, the industry cannot access traditional banking systems or even federal courts. That means business owners can’t declare bankruptcy to dissolve a failed dispensary or farm, leaving them with few options. They can try to liquidate their assets, destroy the product they have on hand and eat the losses.
The shift to recreational was costly. With his business partner Sarah Bennett, Morse says he invested more than $100,000 in equipment to meet state regulations.
The scene at Bridge City Collective is playing out across the city and state. Three years into Oregon’s era of recreational cannabis, the state is inundated with legal weed.
Or they can sell the business to a company like Nectar, often for a fraction of what they’ve invested.
By the start of the new year, Duyck was sitting on 100lb of ready-to-sell flower – an inventory trickling out to dispensaries in single-pound increments.
This month, WW spoke to two dozen people across Oregon’s cannabis industry. They describe a bleak scene: small businesses laying off employees and shrinking operations. Farms shuttering. People losing their life’s savings are unable to declare bankruptcy because marijuana is still a federally scheduled narcotic.
It kept supply low and prices high in 2017 – even though the state was handing out licenses at an alarming rate.
Across rolling hills of Oregon farmland and in Portland dispensaries as sleek as designer eyewear shops, the story plays out the same: Business owners can’t make the low prices pencil out.
Cordell ran headlong into Oregon’s catastrophically bountiful cannabis crop.
A cannabis harvest at East Fork Cultivars, Oregon.
The same problem has plagued cannabis industries in other states that have legalized recreational weed. In 2016, Colorado saw wholesale prices for recreational flower drop 38%. Washington saw its pot drop in value at the same time Oregon did.
She fears she’ll be out of business by the end of the year.
The home page on Nectar’s website prominently declares: “Now buying dispensaries! Please contact us if you are a dispensary owner interested in selling your business.”
The OLCC has said repeatedly that it has no authority to limit the number of licenses it grants to growers, wholesalers and dispensaries (although by contrast, the number of liquor stores in Oregon is strictly limited).
“The prices are so low,” she wrote, “and without hustling all day, hoping to find the odd shop with an empty jar, it doesn’t seem to move at any price.”
Since voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, many industry veterans from the medical marijuana years have chafed at the entrance of new money, warning it would destroy a carefully crafted farm ecosystem.
Ongoing labor and operational costs added another $20,000 a month.
In March, Robin Cordell posted a distress signal on Instagram.
It turns out Oregonians are good at growing cannabis – too good.
The $4 and $5 grams enticed Scotty Saunders, a 24-year-old sporting a gray hoodie, to spend $88 picking out new products to try with a friend. “We’ve definitely seen a huge drop in prices,” he says.
The result? Prices are dropping to unprecedented lows in auction houses and on dispensary counters across the state.