Interview with a Grower

By Nathaniel Mayer

In a few weeks, Californians will decide if marijuana will be decriminalized and made legal to cultivate under Proposition 19. A majority of California’s people believe Prop. 19 should pass in November according to a recent poll by the “Public Policy Institute of California”. There are other multiple polls that are indicating it will be voted in by at least a slim 3%-6% margin. It may come as a surprise though, that many people who currently are involved in the growing and selling of Medical Marijuana are not proponents of Prop. 19. These people are currently working within this new “Grey Market” are getting by just fine without things getting mucked up by changing the rules all over again.

I spoke with one expert Northern California grower who says he will be voting “No” on Prop19 and may be leaving town for good if it passes. “It won’t be worth it anymore”, he explains. He sees the proverbial writing on the wall and he’s cashing in his metaphorical chips. He’s been growing weed for over a decade and now this seasoned Dr. Greenthumb is taking The Pineapple Express out of The Emerald Triangle.

Alright, that’s enough colorful imagery. I actually don’t believe he’s ever voted before in his life. His kind has to stay off the radar in order to survive. He can remain abrasively quick-witted while sloppy drunk (he’s talked his way out of several D.U.I.s) and I’ve seen him charm hugs out of lesbian mothers in their late forties while he pounded a fifth of Stolichnaya.  He has no formal education to speak of, but his keen intuition and street smarts will keep him alive as long has his toxin-abused internal organs will last. He’s an old friend of mine which is the only reason he would speak me about his barely-legal vocation.

He had been living in a hollowed-out former dream home in the outskirts of western Sonoma County when I went to see him. I had forgotten to call ahead to announce my arrival and was met with shouting of threats and warnings from his balcony as I pulled my truck into his compound. I’m sure he was brandishing some sort of long weapon but I couldn’t make out if it was a just a baseball bat or a shotgun. I have known him for close to 20 years but this is still the drug business. At anytime his home could be raided by gangsters, sheriff, or even kids so I can understand why he’s always on edge.

He’s been turning a profit off his harvests for quite a few years now and knows the business well. He sells his product to everyone from private smokers and small-time dealers to local cannabis clubs. His current operation holds over 60 plants in various rooms that no longer resemble living spaces for humans but shabby boxes created solely to cultivate plant life. The room is scattered with lights, fans, nutrients, bulbs, hydro-trays, different combinations of soil and compost, pumps for water, pumps for nutrients. The house perpetually hums with electricity but the $2,500+ he pays every month in the electric bill doesn’t even make a small dent to his quarterly profits.

Neither does the $5,200 a month mortgage. Water is cheap out there, only about $40 a month. The equipment was about $40,000 to get started but he made twice that back in one harvest (roughly 4 months). Right now in California’s cannabis market you can get a pound of decent quality ganja for $2,800. On average, he’s been harvesting about 15-20 pounds worth of potent, fine tasting herb every four months or so. His super-chronic trees can go on to sell for anywhere between $3,000- $4,000 a lb. That’s up to over a quarter of a million dollars a year in profit.

He tries to focus on growing strains that are popular at that particular moment. He prefers Sativa strains that are mellow with less cannabinoids but the people have wanted the stronger Indica lately. “Right now, Kush is popular,” he explains, “last year it was Purple.” Purple varietals were so popular last year they were selling for over $4,000 a pound.

Pot cultivation can be a tough business. It took this Grower a few years before he started seeing returns in his investment and time. Plus, there are always external factors at play that growers have no control over. Spider mites, mold, powder-mildew and even rats can ruin an entire crop. Then there’s creating a quality product; even if the plant is good, the harvest and curing process must also be successful to make a nicely smoke-able varietal of herb.

He isn’t the only one planning an exodus from this once-lucrative gardening business; there are many others who feel the same. Even if it is a semi-legal industry, it’s become a thriving force generating in between $870 million to $2 billion annually and will not go down without a fight. It’s estimated that if weed became legal, it would go down to as little as $500 a pound. A deficit like that could result in the loss of up to 30,000 jobs in California’s Medical Marijuana industry.

Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies are already buying up land in California and preparing them specifically for marijuana growing. Documentation is now available to the public that proves Big Tobacco companies already have a leg up on the business by having land apportioned specifically for marijuana cultivation and trade-marking street slang terms like “O.G. Kush” and “Grape Ape” for their own brand names. This grower just can’t compete with that kind of competition.

He mentions one thing that everyone should perhaps be concerned about; weed’s potency has doubled since 1979, from about 2% THC to just over 4%. Year over year we’re getting closer to the limit of how much THC a human can really handled. There has yet to be a single death related to THC recorded in history but at this rate, the first may be coming sooner than later.

He believes Prop. 19 will pass and this will be his last harvest. He’s going off to Costa Rica for endless scenic beaches, coronas, bananas, and blow. Our state and federal government can’t seem to make up their minds about what to do about this and he’s not waiting any longer. No, he’s had his fill of this hypocritical country for a while and he’s in need of a change.

In an effort to curb the passing of Proposition 19 the Governator just signed a bill making the possession of under an ounce an infraction, punishable with no more than a ticket and a $100 fine.  This combined with growers and medical marijuana workers who will not vote for Prop19 could pull enough votes away from its already narrow lead in the polls. That would only mean the continued persecution of users and further violence in the grow wars but it could also seriously injure California’s already established medical pot industry. It’s the individual’s job to just listen, pay attention and make their own decision.

Nathaniel Mayer is a journalist and freelance writer based out of
California. He's been writing for nearly a decade and currently does regular
columns for

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