See Also: Medical Weed's Stay of Execution in L.A.
Inside 420 W. Pico Ave. in downtown L.A., patients can pick their treatment from a menu; the strains of marijuana have names like "skittles," "sour diesel" and "sucker punch." The main attraction at Kush Connection, though, is "Master Yoda" -- known for a sweet, citrusy taste, and for delivering the smooth, powerful, full-body high that earned it the blue ribbon in the hybrid category at the Los Angeles Cannabis Cup.
The grower has warm memories of that day in February. "It was a personal crossroads for me," he says of accepting the trophy from hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on the L.A. Center Studios stage.
After years of facing stigma for his work, he was finally being validated. Everyone was happy, no one was fighting, and the event was held out in the open, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
All that peace, love and transparency is poised to go up in one big cloud of smoke. Although L.A.'s Sept. 6 ban on dispensaries has been put on hold, police crackdowns seem inevitable, and paranoia is pervasive. The grower, who has taken pains to be legally compliant, says law enforcement has been staking out Kush Connection in recent weeks with a telephoto lens.
One might think that patients are stocking up, but the grower says it has been the opposite: Business is down 65 percent since the ban was announced July 24.
One answer to the chaos and uncertainty is to grow your own.
"If you go by the state attorney general's guidelines, they don't say anything about dispensaries," says Robert Calkin, founder of the Cannabis Career Institute in North Hollywood. "What it does say in the attorney general's guidelines is that we can create private groups of citizens who can grow and distribute amongst ourselves."
Back when Gov. Jerry Brown was Attorney General Jerry Brown, he wrote a handy guide to California's medical marijuana laws. The eight-page document outlines the parameters within which patients can legally grow their own.
All you need to grow and harvest your own medical weed in California is a doctor's recommendation — written or verbal.
Once you have that, it's totally cool in the state's eyes to cultivate your own cannabis. The easiest thing to do, the grower says, is to get a clone — a cutting from a mother plant — available (so long as no ban is in effect) at any dispensary.
If that's not possible, there are plenty of places that will mail seeds to your home. Green Man's Seedbank Update is a website that keeps a running list of which retailers are reliable and which aren't.
The problem with growing from seed is that it necessitates the long and complicated process of sexing the plant (you want female marijuana plants, which have a much higher THC content than males).
It's possible to bypass that step, though, by buying "feminized" seeds.
The experts say you start by soaking the seeds for 24 hours, until a little white rootlet appears. Drain off the excess liquid and place the seeds on a plate between moist sheets of paper towel in a warm, dark place — above the refrigerator, for instance — for five to eight days. If planted in a seed flat, it will begin to sprout in 10 to 14 days, and about three weeks after that the seedling will be ready to be transplanted from the flat to a pot.
California Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, recommends patients maintain no more than six mature or 12 immature plants at a given time. There is a caveat: If the patient's doctor says he needs more, he can grow more.
It's best to keep the operation far, far below 100 plants though — that's the amount at which, under federal law, anyone caught earns a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.
Before planting a single seed or buying a clone, though, you need to be ready. "Don't get ahead of yourself," the grower cautions. "You're having a baby — what do you want to do first?"
Answer: Prepare the nursery.
Clear out that spare closet. You'll need light. Metal halides are best for the "vegetative" state, but the grower recommends switching to a high-pressure sodium lamp when it's time to trigger flowering.
Some say the ideal temperature for marijuana plants is 75 degrees, but the grower says the best way to tell if the temperature is right is by putting your hand under the light — if it's too hot for you, it's too hot for the plant. The same goes for water: Like you, the plant prefers it be filtered.
Experts agree that ventilation is important — the plants need carbon dioxide to perform photosynthesis, so cycling air through the room is vital. A fan can help with that and, if possible, a ventilation tube.
When the site is set up, a month-old seedling or clone can be put in place. In the vegetative stage — which can last from two weeks to five months, depending on how large you want the plant to grow — the plant needs 18 to 24 hours of light a day. That is going to show as an upward tick on your DWP bill.
As long as the plant is getting long hours of light, it will stay in the vegetative, or pre-flowering, state. When you're ready for the plant to flower, reduce the light to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. Cannabis sativa var. sativa will be ready to harvest in nine to 12 weeks.
Cannabis sativa var. indica takes less time — seven to 10 weeks.
You'll know the plant is ready to be harvested, the grower says, "when the hairs turn orange, and the trichomes look like little bulbs."
He advises cutting down the entire plant and hanging it to dry in complete darkness, preferably in a room with a cooler temperature.
After that, you can roll yourself a fat blunt.
Of course, this is for personal consumption only, and only if you got a doctor's written or verbal recommendation. Things turn a little more complicated if you want to share that sticky icky; then you have to form a collective, which requires incorporating as a nonprofit, among other hassles.
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A one-day course at the Cannabis Career Institute in NoHo can teach you how to navigate those obstacles. The class is divided into four parts: the basics of setting up a business and being compliant with the law, followed by a three-hour crash course in horticulture. Next, an attorney comes in to talk about state and federal law; finally students hear all about cannabis cookery from an edibles expert.
"Business 101 plus the marijuana laws," as Calkin describes it.
The next class is Sept. 29. The way things are going in L.A., it might draw a crowd.