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Marijuana: The truth about growing your own pot

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Nick Hice, cultivation facility manager at Denver Relief, harvests several of the plants, getting them ready for the drying process. Kayvan Khalatbari, owner of the pot-growing business and dispensary, talks about growing your own marijuana.

DENVER, CO. – FEBRUARY 04: Dan Ericson trims the sugar leaf off the bud readying it for the drying process. Kayvan Khalatbari owns Denver Relief, a marijuana growing, dispensary, and consulting business. Khalatbari and his employees are meticulous in their marijuana cultivation from start to finish and says the process takes constant care and vigilance by anyone considering growing the plant. (Photo By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post)

Dozens of medicinal-marijuana plants grow under special lighting at Denver Relief. Photos by Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post

Kayvan Khalatbari is operations head of Denver Relief, a marijuana-growing dispensary and consulting business, where every plant is tracked througout its growing life.

Dan Ericson trims the “sugar leaves” — the single leaves close to the bud — off a pot plant, readying it for the drying process. Then he’ll hang the plant upside down for a week to dry.

So you want to grow pot. Or you’re worried the neighbors will.

Marijuana is the botanical conversation piece that just won’t go away. Reactions to it run a wild gamut: It’s the evil weed or a source of future state tax revenue and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Or it’s the only path left to freedom from pain for some people, and journalists should write about it with the same seriousness that they accord blood-pressure medicine.

If you’re 21 or older, Amendment 64 allows you to cultivate up to six marijuana plants in an “enclosed, locked space” in Colorado. (This is still illegal under federal law.)

Sounds simple. But growing marijuana isn’t easy, those who do it professionally say.

Until 2014, it’s illegal to sell plants to those without a medical-marijuana card.

Growing cannabis from seed is possible but impractical.

Such activities are subject to federal prosecution.

One thing is certain: Legalization is changing the landscape of our state. Maybe not our yards, but surely our headspace, our parties, our neighborhoods and our lives. If we understand the plant, it will help us talk about that change using facts rather than fear or naive enthusiasm.

We went to experts with the questions we felt any gardener and homeowner would have. Our interviewees for this story and video were Kayvan Khalatbari and Nick Hice, co-owners of Denver Relief, a medicinal-marijuana dispensary whose growing facility is home to about 1,900 marijuana plants.

An overview of the basics

Question: Where can Coloradans grow marijuana plants? Can people just stick them in a sunny window next to basil and aloe?

Answer: A big thing to remember with marijuana plants is that they need to flower to produce THC ( tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gets people high) and other medicinal cannabinoids. In order to do that, they need 12 hours of light and 12 hours of total darkness a day.

So the best place to grow marijuana is in a room in the basement with a locked door so light doesn’t inadvertently get in when the plants are “sleeping.” If you don’t have a basement, a small closet with light-leak protection around the door will work.

A: All sorts of prepackaged items are available, like grow boxes or grow tents, that are probably best for a small space like a closet, or fo r someone who doesn’t want to get into growing marijuana too intensely.

But if you’re trying to get six plants to be as robust as possible, you probably need to install something that’s more permanent, like a 400- to 600-watt lamp with a hood assembly that comes with a ballast, which you place at least a forearm’s length above the plants.

Keep in mind that the ballast is going to get very hot, so you need to have adequate cooling in the room as well, like a portable air conditioner with a thermostat. You don’t want the room to get above 80 degrees because the hotter it is, the slower the plants grow. The ideal temperature is 75 to 80 degrees when the lights are on and 68 to 74 degrees when the lights are off.

You also have to watch humidity, because every time you water plants in a small space, you’re going to get high humidity. It should be below 50 percent to prevent bud mold or rot.

You can measure humidity with a hygrometer from a hardware or grow store, and reduce it with a dehumidifier or air conditioner.

Q:How would a home grower comply with the rule that limits them to three plants in flower?

A: That means you can grow only three plants if you don’t have two separate growing areas. The reason having only three plants is bad is that you want to keep a rotation going. Or else every time you get done harvesting, you have to go back to a store. If you want a continual supply, you want the perpetualness of having a vegetative stage and a flowering stage going all the time.

Logistics and costs

Q: How much does all this stuff cost?

A: Most grow boxes are $200 to $400, but if you want one with HVAC temperature-control capabilities, it’s pretty pricey — close to $1,000. You can find grow boxes at most local hydroponic stores or grow shops.

A light system and building materials will run $350 to $1,000, and electricity costs per harvest are $100 to $200.

Q:Where would a home grower get seeds?

A: I actually never recommend starting a marijuana plant from seed, because you have to determine whether the seeds are male or female, which is difficult. Only female plants produce the flowers that are most desirable in terms of cannabinoid content. Male plants are pretty much unusable (for smoking purposes).

The best thing to do is to buy a clone — a cutting from a proven plant. People who have red cards (medical-marijuana cards) can buy clones from medical-marijuana centers and grow their own plants. If you know somebody who grows, it is legal today (under state law) for a 21-year-old (or someone older) with a marijuana plant in Colorado to give another 21-year-old (or older) a clone from that plant. But if you don’t know someone who grows, I don’t see an option to legally purchase seeds or clones in this state before 2014, when retail marijuana facilities open.

Cannabis botany 101

Q:Tell us about the different strains of marijuana. How would people choose one?

A: There are three types of cannabis — indica, sativa and ruderalis.

Ruderalis is a ditch weed found in Europe with low THC content. The marijuana we’re familiar with is indica and sativa. Indica has higher CBN (a type of cannabinoid) content, which relieves pain and makes you lethargic. Sativa has the highest psychoactive content, is energizing and provides lucid thought. Most everything available today is a hybrid (and) carries the characteristics of both indica and sativa.

Indica-dominant hybrids are good for growing indoors, because they only get 2 to 3 feet tall from the top of the pot, with a diameter of 12 to 18 inches.

Q:Isn’t hemp a type of marijuana? Can that be grown in a house?

A: Hemp is basically a cultivated variety of sativa. For several thousand years, it has been bred for tall growth, fibrous stems and low THC levels. It still has the medicinal cannabinoids, but you need so many hemp plants to get valuable cannabinoid content — more than 100 — that it wouldn’t be worth growing at home.

Care, air and food

Q:What’s next after obtaining clone plants?

A: Place the clone in a pot filled with a planting medium. Although potting soil would technically work, we use a soilless growing media made from coco fiber, worm casings, perlite and vermiculite because it’s developed specially for marijuana, even though (manufacturers) don’t admit that. You can get premixed versions at grow stores — Royal Gold Tupur is a good brand.

A lot of people use hydroponics, where plant roots are free flowing in what is essentially a circulating water bath. But that can be a problem for inexperienced growers, because if you accidentally add too many nutrients to the water, you can burn or kill the plants because the roots suck the extra nutrients right up. Soilless media act as a buffer to protect the roots.

Q:What type of container is used?

A: Many people use 5-gallon plastic buckets, but those create problems because the roots just wrap around themselves and form a large root ball. If you use a 3- to 5-gallon fiber pot, the root sticks through the pot and (the plant) air-prunes itself, while feeder roots grow in the pot. That gives the plant a larger nutrient intake.

Q:How are the plants fed and watered?

A: Most nutrient products in hydroponic stores come with very easy-to-understand directions and a “recipe” and schedule on the side of the package that you can follow. You should also water the plants every two to three days with tap water that has sat in a container for 24 hours to let the chlorine evaporate.

In addition, because you aren’t growing the plants outside where carbon dioxide is abundant, you must supplement the indoor air with it. Many small-time growers use CO2 tanks (similar to those on a soda fountain machine) with a regulator valve. You can get these tanks from grow stores or beverage suppliers. You can also buy automatic controllers for the tanks that release CO2 at the ideal ratio of 1,250 to 1,550 parts per million.

Getting to harvest

Q:What gets done with the plants after they’ve been potted?

A: Start with clones that are 4 to 5 inches tall, and give them 24-hour light until they reach 9 to 15 inches. If you keep temperatures below 80 degrees, this takes four to five weeks — less if you’re growing hydroponically.

Then you want to throw the plants into the flower cycle (12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of dark). During the second to third week of flowering, prune the bottom third of the plant so it puts its growth energy into the top once buds form.

Q:Then what?

A: Most plants are ready to harvest after 65 to 70 days of flowering. A good way to tell if the plant is harvestable is to get a 45x magnifying glass from a grow store and check out the trichomes on the flowers. Trichomes are the translucent resin glands that contain the cannabinoids. When they turn amber or a milky purple, you know they’re ready. This sounds difficult, but it’s actually pretty easy for the layman to do.

Another option is, if about 80 percent of the flower’s pistils turn orange or darker brown rather than white, then they’re ready to harvest.

Processing the harvest

Q:OK, say a home grower successfully gets three pot plants to the final flowering stage. They’re healthy and producing buds. How are they processed?

A: When a plant is fully mature, some people cut it off at the base, then cut off the fan leaves and hang it upside down. After it’s dried, they’ll trim off all the outer “sugar” leaves (the single leaves close to the bud).

What we think is best is to take down the plant and cut off all the leaves at once. If you leave the sugar leaves on, they may make the marijuana harsher. We trim so the (flower) bud has a clean egg shape, and use (the sugar leaves) to make concentrates to smoke, vaporize or cook with.

Then you hang the plant upside down for about a week, until the stem snaps rather than bends. Conditions should be about 68 degrees with 50 percent humidity. If the plant dries too fast, it locks in the chlorophyll, making it taste like plant material instead of marijuana. If it gets too humid, it can mold.

More questions, more answers

Q:Where can people find legitimate, affordable pot-growing help?

A: There’s a 1,200-page book that is beyond most other books and pretty much says everything you need to know about marijuana growing: “Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible,” by Jorge Cervantes (Van Patten Publishing, 2006). Our guys still keep it on hand, and they’ve been growing for 15 years.

Q: Can THC be topically absorbed? Could people who grow fail a drug test if they touch their plants?

A: You shouldn’t have any issue with handling the plant, but the scent is very pronounced, so you may smell like marijuana.

Q:What are the dangers for those who grow?

A: Be discreet. You wouldn’t tell everybody you have $2,000 just sitting on your nightstand, so don’t tell everyone you have $500 to $1,000 worth of marijuana in your basement. Putting a lock on your growing-room door and installing a home security system is not a bad idea.

Q: This is not something somebody who’s not fully committed should do, is it?

A: It is a daily, daily beast to take care of these plants. If you don’t acknowledge something it’s asking for for a day or two, you can lose two weeks of growth. Even if you do not mess up, that doesn’t mean you’re going to grow good marijuana.

Edited from an interview with Kayvan Khalatbari, principal of Denver Relief Consulting.

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25 Ways to Grow Your Cannabis Business Social Network

One of the best things you can do for your cannabis career is to build your social network. Building your cannabis social network is an investment in yourself, your business, and your future. The key to social networking is to put others needs above your own. As they say, “the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”

Lucky for you, there are many online cannabis business platforms sprouting up all the time. By building your personal brand online and moving your conversations and relationships offline you can create relationships that will last you a lifetime and guide you towards career success.

Are you ready to become the level of cannabis professional you were always meant to be?

These 25 tips below were crafted for everyone from the premier brand cultivator, to the industry newbie.

Plan to Network

Sounds obvious enough, right? I mean this is a blog about building your cannabis business social network. But when we say plan to network, we really mean research and create an action plan.

A great networking exercise to begin with is to first write down all the cannabis industry connections that you currently have. Next, write down all of the people that you would like to get in contact with.

On your first list you can use social media to identify if your network has any mutual connections with your wish list. If you identify any opportunities, simply reach out to your mutual connections to see if they would be happy to make an introduction for you. But as always, remember to be purposeful in your outreach. Make sure that you know your strengths and weaknesses, and then start small. See if you can get start with a call or meeting for coffee and go from there.

After you’ve gone through your mutual connections there will likely be a lot of gaps left. This is where creating an action plan for how you will strengthen you existing relationships and forge new ones will come into play.

It’s ok to be persistent (as long as you’re respectful) and remember that first impressions matter a lot. If it isn’t the right time for someone to connect, be respectful of their decision and at the very least they’ll be familiar with your name in the future.

Know What You’re Looking For

You would be surprised by how many people start networking in the cannabis industry but have no idea what they want to do!

Don’t be this person.

Before exhausting your network, you should know what you want. Do you want to be a cannabis grower, work for a dispensary, or get involved in rapidly evolving government and regulatory landscape?

Also, if you’re looking for new clients for your business, your outreach should be targeted and respectful of your clients’ needs.

Once you’ve found what it is that you want to do, add to your list of potential contacts. Choose people that align with your interests.

As your action plan continues to develop, you’ll find that you become more deliberate with your time. By being deliberate with your outreach you can increase your chances of networking success.

Attend Cannabis Industry Tradeshows

Tradeshows are a great place to network and meet many industry contacts in a single day. Although in 2020, the Covid pandemic has slowed face-to-face meetings in the cannabis industry, you can still attend digital tradeshows to get your face out there.

The good news is that because less people are walking tradeshow floors, the companies exhibiting have more time and will likely be more willing to help you.

Just remember that in the marijuana industry, tradeshows tend to be regional. So focus on tradeshows in your country of interest. MJBizDaily hosts a number of North American tradeshows, and for Canadian cannabis professionals you may want to consider Lift Expo and O’Cannabiz, to name a few.

Get Help from a Recruiter

Cannabis recruiters are available to help you in your search for a dream job. Cannabis companies have a hard time finding qualified talent, so if you have something to offer make sure you can show it!

At GroAdvisor, we work with a number of industry partners and place full-time and part-time positions for cultivation companies. Though, our partners focus on candidates with many years of experience.

If you’re a cannabis industry pro, feel free to reach out to us if you’re looking to hire up or find a job.

If you’re new and looking to get started, we recommend that you search for cannabis recruiting firms and schedule calls directly to get some guidance on how to find a job aligned with your skills and interests.

Join Cannabis Business Social Media Platforms

There are now more cannabis social media sites than ever before. These digital communities are the perfect place to put yourself out there and get connected in the industry.

As with any networking, etiquette is important. Make sure to do your research on your target contacts. Start a conversation by being friendly but also don’t be afraid to be direct in asking for what you want. You will be surprised at how many people online are exciting to help.

Also, it’s ok to have a personality and show enthusiasm. No one wants to talk to a cyborg (although that does sound pretty cool).

Just make sure to show yourself in a professional and friendly manner by updating your social media profile with a photo, description, and any experience you bring easily accessible.

Our next few tips will show you our recommendations for some of the top cannabis social media sites online.

Connect with Cannabis Professionals on LinkedIn

Yes, you read that right. LinkedIn is actually a great place to network, even for the marijuana industry. Plenty of professionals in every industry now use LinkedIn to connect with professionals, newcomers and businesses that can help them.

When optimizing your LinkedIn profile make sure to tell a story. Where did you come from? What are your skills? What are your ambitions?

If you currently are out of work, put what you’re seeking in your profile title.

Make sure to complete your profile to the best of your ability with any achievements, previous experience, education, and affiliations.

Also, head over to LinkedIn Groups to find cannabis-related groups that can help you identify likeminded hiring managers and job seekers.

Expand Your Cannabis Business Network on Leaf Wire

Leaf Wire is a relatively new social media platform for cannabis professionals. The platform is like other non-cannabis business social networks but will be more targeted for your search.

Leaf Wire’s mission is to connect investors and entrepreneurs looking to do business and grow the industry together.

If you’re serious about networking for cannabis business, we recommend starting with Leaf Wire today.

The same rules of engagement apply but you may want to show you’re cannabis experience with photos of you in the environment.

Nerd Out with Other Cultivators on Grow Diaries

This one is for the growers out there. Grow Diaries not only helps you track your data, but you can share your results and ask a community of growers how to improve or avoid mistakes.

It’s like having a team behind you to help you make cultivation decisions. Experience and education are key in horticulture, so leverage this resource to grow your knowledge.

Of course, if you’re a commercial cultivator we always recommend going with a team of professional consultants (wait, that’s what we do at GroAdvisor, and yes that was a shameless placement).

But either way, we always encourage you to expand your community as there’s so much to learn in this industry. Which leads us to our next recommendation.

Expand Your Professional Cannabis Community with Growers Network

Growers Network is a forum for commercial cultivators looking to hone their craft.

Ask industry leaders questions and follow trending conversations to connect with others who’ve dealt with the same growing pains you experience.

Think of it like the Reddit of cannabis, which brings us to our next social media forum.

  • Take Your Networking Search Online with Reddit
  • Reddit is an absolutely massive forum and repository of information and potential connections. To get the most out of Reddit, you first have to know how it works.

    After you create an account, you can search by various categories on virtually any topic in the world.

    We recommend digging deeper than simply a cannabis channel, and to find groups specific to your end goal. If you’re looking to engage the cultivation side of the industry you can search for cannabis (or marijuana) cultivation. The same goes for dispensaries or anything else.

    Be ready to get flooded with information and lost in the forums for hours, but hopefully you’ll learn the industry from the bottom-up at the very least.

    Join the Cannabis Social Network Marketplace on Weedable

    Weedable is for those looking to engage in the retail and influencer side of the cannabis industry.

    You can find the lastest products, learn about THC and CBD profiles, strains, concentrates, edibles, topicals and genetics.

    This is more of your traditional social media site geared for the marijuana.

    Surround Yourself with Marijuana Businesses on MjLink

    MjLink is a business network for cannabis. Find other industry professionals to network and learn from.

    As a business, you can also list your company on their directory to be found by others.

    Also, you can explore webinars and take an inside look at various conferences such as those of the NCIA on MjLink.

    Accelerate Your Online Networking by Using Hashtags

    Hashtags are great for any industry-specific social media search, and the same goes for cannabis.

    A hashtag is simply a pound sign (#) followed by the topic that you’re searching for.

    By entering hashtags into social search engines such as LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook you can find relevant information and connect with those sharing the same interests.

    We recommend checking out #cannabisindustry and #cannabisnews to get started!

    Build an Online Presence (Personal Branding)

    Now that you’ve explored some of the social media tools that can help in your cannabis networking efforts, it’s time to build an online presence.

    Much like how companies brand themselves to be recognized in the market, you too can brand yourself to be recognized by others.

    Again, make sure that you know what you want first and foremost. Then, make sure that you understand your personal story back and forth.

    Once you have a story that’s worth telling, people will be interested to hear it!

    Build an Offline Presence

    Building an offline presence goes back to the basics of networking before the internet.

    Remember business cards? Their still important. When you’re meeting with people in real life, you’ll want to leave something with them that they can remember you by and contact you from.

    Show Your Success

    Whether you’re building a personal brand or speaking with a new colleague, make sure to highlight your success (whether it be in the cannabis industry or otherwise).

    People want to know what it is that you can do. Success comes in many factors. Whether it be managing multiple cannabis facilities or simply improving the workflow of your last job, it helps for people to see your ambition and skill.

    Leverage Your Cannabis Industry Referrals

    If you’ve been in the industry for some time, your network is one of the most valuable resources you have.

    Set up calls and meetings with those contacts you’ve made at tradeshows or within companies you’ve worked with in the past.

    If you already have a mentor, ask them who you should talk to for accomplishing your goals.

    Nothing is better than getting an introduction from a trusted source.

    Pick a Niche for Your Industry

    If you’re dream is to become a budtender, then reaching out to a CEO is likely not the best approach (unless it’s a very small company of course).

    Make sure that you’re connecting with the right people in your niche.

    Also, learn everything you can about that niche ahead of time. There are plenty of magazines and resources on almost every topic in the cannabis and hemp industry at this point.

    You are your most valuable asset, so continue to grow yourself in a way that achieves your goals.

    Provide Value to Your Social Network

    Have we driven this home enough? Honestly, probably not.

    Most people get caught up in what they want from others that they forget to offer what they have.

    Generosity is important when expanding your social networks. See if there’s a way you can help your new contact or colleagues and they’ll be more likely to help you on your way to that new position or deal in the future.

    Become a Cannabis Influencer

    Alright, this one is not for everyone. But in today’s day and age it pays to become an influencer.

    Becoming an influencer means beginning to create your own content and sharing it on social media platforms.

    Especially if you’re interested in the retail and product side of the cannabis business, reviews and education can get your name noticed and potentially monetize your personal brand.

    Connect Your Networks as a Matchmaker

    Introducing your network to others that may help achieve their goals is a great way to network.

    Just like you, everyone else is looking to grow their social circle. By becoming an industry matchmaker, you’re providing value upfront to your colleagues and they’ll be more likely to do the same in return.

    Start a Cannabis Community

    Whether it be online or offline, people are always looking to engage with new communities around their interests. You can start a new Facebook group, Reddit thread, or local club to get likeminded people connected and involved.

    It takes some effort to put yourself out there, but it’s easier than ever to socialize online with so many tools at your disposal!

    Dust Off Your Resume

    Even in today’s online world, your resume is incredibly important. Our suggestion for improving your resume for the cannabis industry are:

    • Custom-tailor each resume and CV you send so that it’s applicable
    • Don’t write too much text and consider using a modern and clean design
    • Feel free to use jargon but avoid using too much
    • Be specific about your experience and your goals

    Follow Up with Your Network

    If you’ve followed everything listed above, you will have undoubtedly met a few (if not hundreds) of likeminded individuals.

    Make sure to add your new contacts to your action plan for following up.

    Social networking is often about persistence, so don’t’ be discouraged if you don’t accomplish your goals at the outset.

    Be patient and you’ll be well on your way to forging long-lasting cannabis industry relationships.

    Follow Your Dreams

    Everyone has a dream and we hope that we’ve been able to provide some guidance for you to achieve yours.

    No matter if you’re just starting out or are a cannabis industry pro, remember that our industry is still young and there’s a lot of opportunity to grow.

    One of the best things you can do for your career in this industry is to build your cannabis business social network. Learn how today.