California Green Rush: Real Housewives Or Weeds Wanna-Be’s?

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Photo: Qwickstep.com

​​​By Jack Rikess

Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent

“Angela” blames most of her problems on the economy. “I had a total of three houses, the one I lived in and two others I bought as investments in early ’04. After my real estate business stalled in ’08, I was basically sitting on three empty houses that I couldn’t move or even rent. That when I decided that maybe there was another way: I would grow marijuana.”
And that’s where all of Angela’s troubles started.

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Photo: Cannabis TV

​Angela remembers a joint being passed around a dorm during college, but that was the extent of her druggy experience. She married early and was divorced 15 years later with two kids to support.
Wow, almost sounds like the makings for a boring cable show.
There are now “universities” popping up all over the country based on the Oaksterdam University (Richard Lee’s baby) model that teaches all things cannabis to anyone who has the money for tuition. From baked goods to growing, a neophyte off the street can get a well-rounded “higher” education and supposedly learn everything there is to know about cannabis.
But until you get your hands a little dirty, you’re in for a real-world education.
Angela went to a local hydroponic store that had recently opened in her East Bay community. For the first few months she followed the DVDs and books on growing pot that she purchased in the garden center. But she had a hard time getting her grows set up and working at full functionality. In fact, her first few harvests were complete failures.
That’s when she started borrowing money from her sons and other family members.
“Y’know, in for a penny, in for a pound,” Angela says in a kind of a retrospectively embarrassed tone.
Can I ask how much you ended up borrowing from your family?
“A little less than a hundred grand.”
You’re joking?
“I wish I was,” Angela sighs.
“It all started at my local store where I had purchased my lights and whole set-up. I met two different people at two different times; each would play a role in my downfall.”
Go on…

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Photo: The Seedbank Grow Guides

​”This is going to sound stupid but during my second or third attempt at growing marijuana, I had a cruise already booked with a few gal pals and couldn’t get out of it. I had met some young men at our garden center. They had been very nice to me in the store and we ended speaking in the parking lot about some of the issues I was having.
“They seemed very knowledgeable and very helpful — and were most concerned that I get a good harvest. I told them that I needed to leave my plants alone for 10 days. Could I get by with leaving my lights and food and water on timers? They said no. For a price, they would watch my plants.
“I was lucky I only gave them the keys to my two empty houses, not my personal home. I came back from the cruise and from the moment I opened the front door, I could smell pot and I knew there was a problem. They had taken all my plants, lights and wiring. They cleaned me out.”
That’s awful.
“Then later I met a man more my age, in his late 50s. He said he’d been growing for years and would love to help me. But before that could happen, he needed me to buy him pre-paid phones at a strip mall store. When I told him I didn’t have the money for it — he was out of town at the time — he sent me a stuffed Koala bear with 10 $100 bills inside.”
Weren’t you suspicious?
“No, he said he was sending it inside the stuffed animal for tax reasons. Then he had me doing all sorts of stuff for him. Buying things in my name, for his business, not having anything to do with growing, or having anything to do with marijuana.”
What happened?
“He was suddenly gone one day and I haven’t been able to reach him.”
Do you worry that he knows where you live and could still have some contact with you?
“I’ve sold the three houses at a loss. I live in a small apartment now a little closer to out of town now. My kids and sisters don’t speak to me because I still owe them money. At 62, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

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Photo: Jeff Schrier/The Saginaw News

​Since I’ve been writing about the world of marijuana, I’ve heard millions of sad tales of weed gone wrong. From home invasions where the bad guys dress up like the Feds and steal your pot from under your nose to violent rip-offs where guns and violence are used.
Here in San Francisco, there is a glut of weed. You can barely sell it, and if you do, you’re going to be crying all the way home because of how wee little you’ve let your harvest go for.
Because of the cable TV show, Weeds, or because of the tough economic times we are in, more and more uneducated and inexperienced civilians are turning to pot for money. It just seems like everyone’d doing it and, actually, how hard can it be?
Personally, as much as I like the actors on Weeds, most of my friends and I can’t stand watching the show. The show was created for couples in Sherman Oaks who after a hard day at their straight jobs, like to roll a pinner on the weekends and get stoned and pretend they are bad-ass dealers like Nancy Botwin, the Valley’s answer to Al Capone.
It’s like a study of watching amateurs at work. They may get some small details correct, but for the most part,
it is a story of how to put your family in harm’s way.
There are growers that have been doing this for 30 years or more, who know what they are doing. This is who the ‘hobbyists’ compete with.
What’s the difference between a hobbyist grower and a pro?
I went to the experts.

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Photo: OurWeed.com

​”We define a hobbyist as a person who is growing up to five plants and spends around $400-600 on lights for their grow. Professionals will have around 30 plants or more, in your typical indoor grow, and the price tag is in the thousands, easily,” says Louie of Green Goddess Hydroponics, opened last October in the heart of San Francisco, a little north of the Tenderloin.
In the short time that I spoke with Louie and his boss, customers kept coming into the store which is barely larger than a magazine kiosk.
The tight shelves are packed with additives and enhancers for budding and flowering with names like “Beastie Bloomz” or simply “All Natural Nirvana.”
I asked them what it is like to run a hydroponic store in this era of “grassnost,” when it feels like weed is already legal. Can a person come in and say, for example, I want to grow me some weed, can you help? Or do they still have to use the code that they’re trying to grow some big, juicy tomatoes that you can get high on?
“If we are too open, and our distributors hear about it, we could be cut off,” the owner tells me candidly. :We deal with some very traditional garden center providers and distributors, and they don’t want to get into the politics of the situation. 
But when a young couple in their 20s ask Louie about the right time to add the blooming agent, the knowledgeable clerk corrected him and told him to add it just a few days before blooming, not a week before like the young man had thought.
So, how much of your business would you say has to do with growing marijuana, versus growing tomatoes?
“Ninety percent of our business is with the indoor grower,” one of them said.
How many of them are hobbyists — the folks who are growing a few plants to see what will happen?
“It’s hard to say. We sometimes will spend up to an hour with some customers, because…well…because, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
You sell books, DVD’s and other grow info?

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Photo: monochrom

​”Yes, but you still have to explain a lot to them. Some have no experience at all. Some are thinking of growing for additional funds. Some just want a personal stash. But we want everyone to be successful, so they’ll come back and buy more stuff.”
I asked if there are predators that are looking for greenish growers to take advantage of, lurking in these parts.
“We get some in here who seemingly have a different agenda than ours. They interrupt our conversations with customers, to put their two cents in.”
Do they ever walk out with a customer in hopes of trying to get involved with the customer’s grow?
“We try to stop that, but when people have thousands invested, and are not sure where their next job is coming from, people get scared. You have to be careful that the wrong set of ears isn’t listening, people will take advantage of those who don’t know.”
During my interview, two gentlemen from Modesto wandered in wondering where they might be able to unload some high-grade indoor in this town.
Louie and I just shook our head and said good luck. There is so much dope in this town, that unless Ed Rosenthal or some dispensary taster likes it, you’re not going to be able to move it.
For a moment the hydroponic store had the feeling of a café or record store, where like minded people gathered to find out what only those in the know know. Then it was gone.
The gentlemen left in quandary wondering why a guy can’t get rid of supposedly great weed in this day and age.
I left the store wondering where this Green Rush is going and how many more people are going to get hurt while others make big money.
It reminds a guy of countless, nameless miners and prospectors who died penniless and broke for their efforts. I recall one profitable storekeeper’s name, from that Gold Rush, as I walk to a dispensary in my black Levi Strausses.
It’s all happening.

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Photo: Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco.

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.


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