Categories
BLOG

how to make money growing weed

What I learned during my first year in the pot-growing business

I’ve been a pretty avid pot smoker since I moved to San Francisco from Massachusetts in 2005.

I didn’t smoke much growing up on the East Coast, but I took to NorCal weed quickly.

For the next ten years, I maintained a pretty mainstream lifestyle (by San Francisco standards) as well as a stable career in Operations-Management for a local non-profit, all while smoking massive amounts of ganja at every opportunity.

Smoking rarely got in the way of work, and work rarely got in the way of smoking.

As I entered my thirties, my career was moving along nicely but I didn’t feel any fireworks for the job. While I was making good money in a respectable position, I didn’t feel any enthusiasm for my work. Slowly, I became one of those jabronis who dreads going to work every day for a measly paycheck. In truth, the best part of my work day was the fat joint I would smoke every night on my way home.

So before settling for a job that was just barely good enough, I decided I would try to live the dream and get a job in the cannabis industry.

I started trying to pick up any work I could find around the marijuana business. I hit up friends, and friends of friends, and friendly folks who smelled like weed. My first gig was helping a buddy trim the 30 White Widow plants he had grown in his basement.

Over the course of the next few years, I worked with a variety of outdoor growers in the famous “Emerald Triangle” of pot-growing counties in Northern California. I acquired some good knowledge and made some extra cash, but struggled to find a role beyond seasonal work.

Now, I’m a cultivator and a veteran member of the team with an increasingly significant role to play. I’ve worked hard and learned on the job. I’ve thrived with the company and, while it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve loved every second of it.

I am proud to tell people what I do for work and eager to talk about the state of the business. With the groundswell of support the nation showed for marijuana in November, the conversation about cannabis has been brought into the public light more than ever. However, I’ve noticed a few recurring misconceptions which seem to come up whenever I talk about the cannabis business with outsiders.

And of course, it wasn’t that along ago when I was an “outsider” myself, and had similar misconceptions. Looking back on the journey now, these are the five most important things I’ve learned about the cannabis industry:

The business isn’t just for gangsters and degenerates anymore.

I don’t really think it ever was just for gangsters and degenerates, but you know the reputation. When I talk about the pot business, people often imagine a guy with blond dreadlocks who smells like patchouli oil, sitting in a lawn chair in the woods with a pit-bull and a shotgun.

“I’m hoping to work my way up to Head Guy Sitting In A Lawn Chair In The Woods,” I tell them. And while that description may look a bit like me in that old picture a few lines up (trading the shotgun for a ukelele), it doesn’t look much like the modern grow facilities that now dominate the marketplace.

Growers have been operating within the shifting gray areas of the law for decades around Northern California. With the passage of Prop 64, the business becomes increasingly legal, legitimate, safe, and regulated. The people that have operated at the outskirts of the law– the rogue entrepreneurs, botanists, shamans, and outlaws who dared to grow a forbidden plant (it sounds so ridiculous now, doesn’t it?)–have a year to get square with Sacramento.

Meanwhile, the early on-boarders to legalization find themselves at the vanguard of the industry. The business is an eclectic mix of outlaws and upstarts; a true meritocracy with no discrimination or prejudice. Whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, Protestant or Juggalo; the only thing that matters is how well you do your job.

And while there might still be more patchouli than your average workplace, marijuana growers are some of the greatest people on earth.

But we’re not startups either.

“I ride to work every day on a bus that’s got a smoothie bar, foosball table, and vaping lounge” one of my techie chums tells me, “But I can’t imagine the amenities your workplace must have!”

The modern pot biz, I have frequently noticed, is easily confused with that other California boom industry: tech. And while there is a lot of cross-over between the cannabis and tech industries (such as app’s and web-based delivery systems; an ever-more-perfect product line from PAX; and constantly advancing grow technology) their respective corporate atmospheres couldn’t be any more different. While tech is famed for opulent facilities and lavish spending, the pot business is lean and spartan. A good grow-op will have everything you need to grow a huge amount of great weed, and nothing else. We pride ourselves on efficiency and we measure success in inches, seconds, and cents. A successful pot operation devotes maximum resources to the plants while creating as little extra cost as possible.

(Flashy cars, sneakers, and dab-rigs excluded).

The work is hard.

The work falls between agricultural and industrial. It requires a broad and diverse skill set. The gardening is peaceful, but there is also a plumbing and electrical system to operate, critical data to track, and a huge amount of routine janitorial work that comes with growing plants, which–inevitably– includes killing rats.

But, as we frequently say around the office, the plants never stop growing. The workload is heavy and unlikely to light up anytime soon as the market-demand for marijuana continues to grow. Fortunately.

We love what we do.

Imagine a workplace in which every single one of your coworkers has a deep and passionate love for the product. They use the product every day. It is deeply connected to their mental, physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual well-being. It has been more central to their identity than their race, religion, music, or favorite sports team.

They love the product so much that they may have gone to jail for it. Maybe they even have the product tattooed on their neck, which probably wasn’t a great decision in hindsight but still a meaningful testament.

No one has “fallen into” the cannabis industry. Growing pot isn’t anybodies “plan B” (unless “plan A” was seriously bonkers). The industry is populated almost entirely by people who are passionately, enthusiastically, fervently devoted to marijuana. Job satisfaction is high (*nailed it*). It’s an inspiring atmosphere, to say the least.

The future is bright, but the fight’s not done.

Many folks think that with the pending legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, the fabled Green Rush is approaching it’s peak. While the industry is certainly thriving now, the rush is just beginning. California is set to be the largest cannabis marketplace in the world when it opens in January of 2018. Additionally, the national market place is going to be available soon and even a legitimate international marketplace, eventually.

Then there are the secondary industries that will blossom in the shadow of the industry, from technology to tourism. A renaissance is beginning. Cultivators are coming together to share generations of knowledge and ground-breaking technology. Communities of cannabis-enthusiasts are forming on-line and IRL.

Knowledge is flowing more freely than ever and the young mavericks of our craft are increasingly free to explore the rich depths of the industry. What’s truly remarkable are the possibilities we haven’t even imagined yet.

2017 will be my second year in the business, and the last before fully legalized marijuana becomes the law of the land in the Bear-Flag state. Our federal government has fought a war on cannabis for decades and the good guys are finally winning but the fight is far from done.

As prosperity arrives for a select few of us, we must not forget our brothers and sisters who are still incarcerated as a result of the Drug War. According to DrugPolicy.Org, more than a half-million Americans were arrested for simple possession in 2015. I’m buying weed cooked into macaroons from a fancy boutique and 10,000 people are suffering the indignities of incarceration for having a bag? It’s not right.

It’s also not time to take it for granted that legal weed is the law of the land.

With Donald Trump on the Iron Throne, it’s hard to be sure of anything. While he has historically held a progressive stance on marijuana, he has surrounded himself with several high-profile anti-cannabis crusaders (including Chris Christie and Jeff Sessions) who have repeatedly floated insinuations that the Drug War isn’t done.

8 states (and Washington D.C.) have now legalized marijuana for recreational use, and more than 20 other states have medical marijuana laws in place. While support has been strong for marijuana, almost half of the country still lives under prohibition. It is my belief that every American deserves to have access to the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and that no government should be allowed to interfere with a citizen’s right to grow and harvest a plant on their own property for their own usage.

So until that’s the law of the land, I’m going to keep making noise about it in City Hall and on Facebook (and with some of the resources listed below).

And maybe one day the tides will turn so for as long as I can, I am going to keep trying to grow the absolute best weed that I can.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.

2016 was the year I broke into the legitimate cannabis industry.

Five tips for growing and selling marijuana like a pro – from a university instructor

The developer behind a Canadian university’s online course for prospective cannabis professionals offers key advice for success in the newly legal business

A worker tends to cannabis plants. Growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale is not the same as running a professional operation, warns Tegan Adams. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Corbis/Corbis

A worker tends to cannabis plants. Growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale is not the same as running a professional operation, warns Tegan Adams. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Corbis/Corbis

Last modified on Wed 20 Sep 2017 19.44 BST

I f you’ve had enough of your nine-to-five’s wearying toil, perhaps a change of vocation is in order. The Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver can recommend an intriguing alternative starting this September: selling pot.

The shady-looking fellow on the corner will tell you that you hardly need a college diploma to sell weed for a living. But Kwantlen’s new 14-week online course will sculpt aspiring dealers into professionals in a robust – and newly legal – field.

The course promises to be a rigorous survey of the landscape of marijuana production and sale, educating prospective growers in everything from irrigation to marketing.

So what exactly makes for a good professional manager of marijuana for medical purposes?

I spoke with Tegan Adams, the programme’s developer and primary instructor, to get a clearer idea of what those eager for education in the discipline can expect.

1. Don’t rely on past experience

There were, of course, “various growers doing it long before it was legal” but even pot veterans find their expertise distinctly lacking. “People have done the best they can given the resources,” Adams says – but growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale isn’t the same as running a professional operation. “I’ve noticed that there is a pretty big labor shortage in the marijuana industry,” says Adams. “That’s one of the major problems we’re facing right now: there’s no training anyone can take.”

She continues: “A lot of people have been growing for 20 years. That’s great. Chances are they are very knowledgeable about growing the plant. But when it comes to regulations, financials and everything to do with exchange, they have no idea how that part works.”

That’s where Adams and the programme come in. “Having a standardized education system is going to be important to the licensed producers and anyone doing it legally going forward.”

2. Get to know the logistics

Growing and selling marijuana the proper way is rather more difficult than simply popping a plant under a black light in your closet. Doing it right means planning to grow on a large scale – and planning to deal with large-scale problems.

“As with any agricultural crop,” Adams says, “there are going to be ongoing issues with pest management that you need to look at.” Energy consumption, too, poses challenges few people consider. “Indoor facilities especially have huge electrical bills,” Adams points out. “For a four- to five-thousand square foot place you’re looking at around $30,000 a month. That’s a lot. That’s $360,000 a year for the lights in just a small facility.”

A marijuana field. Photograph: Stephanie Paschal / Rex Features

Preparing for such eventualities is a key part of any business plan. “If you were going to grow any crop, you would sit down and make your production plan. You would look at how much money you would spend on different input, and also look at how your production and labour are going to work within regulations.” Of particular importance is the MMPR – the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which govern the production of pot for legal use and sale in Canada.

Then there are “environmental monitoring and sanitation issues” unique to the growing of weed. “I think the main challenge,” Adams concludes, “is that marijuana is an agricultural or horticultural crop but it’s being regulated from a pharmaceutical perspective. One of the major challenges is joining the agricultural and pharmaceutical ways of doing things.”

3. Build a client base – and keep them

“A lot of people are buying marijuana,” Adams says. “There’s no doubt about that.” But does that mean the would-be marijuana seller has a built-in clientele? Not necessarily. “It’s going to be quite competitive,” she warns. “There are conglomerates who have already joined. There’s some big money involved. And I think you’re going to see a lot of it move more in that direction.”

The solution? “We need to focus on consumer satisfaction. How do you get your messaging out to your patients? How do you retain them, make them happy, answer their questions? How do you get their loyalty?” Answering those questions, Adams says, is “how you’re going to stay in business in the end”.

One advantage the educated and licensed pot purveyor has over his illegal competitors is consistency. “With legal products you know exactly what you’re getting,” Adams says. “There are pesticide tests to make sure there are no residues on the plants. If you get it from an illegal supplier, those guys aren’t allowed to test their products. You have no idea what they’re putting on their plants. You don’t know how they’re handling it. If you get it from a licensed producer, you know that it’s clean and a lot safer.”

4. Build a boutique brand

With so much money in the marijuana game, it may be difficult for the independent supplier to stand out – unless independence is seized upon as a virtue.

“The main thing that’s important is to make a boutique brand rather than a mainstream one,” Adams says. “As long as that mom and pop store is able to market to its local consumers, it will stay in business. And people in its area may even buy more than they would from, say, Advil because they know them and trust them and like their brand.”

Legal in Canada … for medicinal purposes. Photograph: Alamy

But in the end, it comes down to loyalty and marketing: “With beer and wine the marketing and branding is important but the flavours really contrast. Marijuana strains vary, but in terms of actual flavouring there may be less variation. So it has to do with branding.”

If you’ve got a good product, you’ve got to get it into your customer’s hands and have them come back.

5. Be a well-rounded grower and seller

“I’ve done a lot of consulting work,” Adams says, “and one of the main issues that I see, especially in startups, is that there’s a knowledge gap between the marketing guys and the people on the ground. The people who work in the facility really need to be able to communicate with the patients and marketing side of things, and vice versa. It’s important that both sides understand each other.”

For the prospective grower that means knowing both the production side of the industry as well as the sales: you’ve got to be as good at producing pot as getting someone else to pay for it and smoke it.

For Adams, it’s about a union of personal assets. “You need to be someone who is able to balance technical abilities and social and communications skills,” she says. “Maybe understand numbers and look at finance and know what they need, but can you then go and talk to an upset customer and know what they need, too. That’s the key. Having both skills is necessary.”

The developer behind a Canadian university’s online course for prospective cannabis professionals offers key advice for success in the newly legal business