When they took the blindfold off me, I was in the driveway of a 2,000 square foot house in an upscale suburban community near Vancouver, Canada, escorted by a man called “BC Hardcore.”
He and I had been introduced to each other by Mike Straumietis, co-founder of the Canadian marijuana plantfood company Advanced Nutrients, after I’d told Mike I wanted to do an article about large-scale commercial production of marijuana.
The house was nine years old, and had been bought two months ago for $300,000 by people intending to use the entire house for growing pot.
In the high-stakes world of commercial growing, smart people like BC Hardcore are professionally paranoid. The people who purchased the house and pay property taxes on it are not BC Hardcore or his associates ? they are a shadowy investment group with fictitious identities, complex real estate paperwork, dummy investors, puppet people, and foreign bank accounts.
If the grow house is ever busted, it won’t matter how hard investigators work to find its real owners. It won’t matter if everybody found at the grow house narked as much as they knew ? the real owners of the house, and the people who helped them obtain ownership of it, will never be identified, and, even if identified, will probably never be caught, punished, or have their assets seized.
Canadian police know this, and they don’t try so hard to bust big grows, which is one reason that growing in Canada is still much safer than growing in the US.
The British Columbia (BC) marijuana growing industry generates about $6 billion per year in hard currency profits; this allows people like BC Hardcore and those above him to amass personal fortunes and political power.
Everyone gets a piece of the marijuana cultivation money-pie ? hardware stores, car dealerships, electricians, real estate agents, police officers, money launderers, attorneys, bankers, and retail stores.
Some police officers grow, sell, and smoke pot. Prosecutors and judges do too. Technicians who work for BC Hydro, the main electricity supplier, often help growers get enough electricity in ways that won’t be detected by BC Hydro’s partnership with anti-marijuana police, who seek to identify grow ops based on unusually high energy consumption.
And at the top of the food chain, people take a million a year in profit, without running the risk of getting busted or doing the hard work of keeping crops alive. The industry doesn’t run on trust, good intentions or so-called “marijuana consciousness.” It runs on one mutual interest: to make as much money as possible, as soon as possible, with as little risk as possible.
That’s why the BC commercial bud industry relies heavily on growing and shipping the same type of bud, and on emphasizing yield over diversity. That’s why the BC commercial industry has a “flavor of the moment” approach to crop selection. A few years ago, almost every commercial grower was growing Big Bud. Then, consumers got tired of Big Bud, so growers switched to Hashplant.
The current fave flavor is the so-called “Jamaican,” which really isn’t Jamaican at all. It’s just a variety, like all the other varieties that commercial producers have favored over the years. It clones well, yields high, finishes early, cures fast, looks good to Americans (the primary customers for BC bud), and ships well.
Down in the states, consumers are starting to grumble about the predictability of “BC Hydro Jamaican,” saying that they are becoming immune to the high and bored with the flavor. Pretty soon, “Jamaican” will no longer be what’s grown in 90% of BC’s big rooms. It will be replaced by some other easy-to-grow, lime green, “not too many red hairs” variety, which will thrive in clone heaven for a couple of years until US consumers again demand a new strain.
BC Hardcore doesn’t know who pays his salary or who gives him the average $50,000 per month that he uses for payroll, supplies, pay-offs, and other operating expenses. His funding arrives through untraceable methods. Communications are conducted via secure channels; the people he talks to from time to time, the people “in charge,” use devices that mask their voices and location.
As Hardcore greeted his grow house construction crew, I surveyed various activities taking place, as well as the general appearance and surroundings of the house.
Grow houses exist in all kinds of neighborhoods and configurations, but BC houses aim for ideals, and ideals are what I am going to emphasize in this article and its sequel. In this regard, ideal cultivation houses usually sit on at least a half-acre of land, and are surrounded by trees, hedges, fences or other physical barriers that prevent visual surveillance by people off the property.
The houses are protected by gated driveways, and by remote sensors, electronic trip-wires, surveillance cameras and listening devices.
On the commercial grow house tour BC Hardcore took me on, we visited one house that did not have this vast array of sophisticated monitoring devices. The house was out in the country; the long lane leading up to it was blocked by a reinforced steel gate, and a grow caretaker lived in a smaller house, about 50 yards from the grow house.
When we walked up to the front door of the house, we noticed a broken window and torn-up mini-blind inside the window frame. The front door had been kicked in and then re-attached. The front hallway monitoring camera had been yanked off its wall mount and was in pieces on the floor. The flowering room’s 500 plants had been harvested a week ago; the would-be thieves, whom BC Hardcore believed were insiders recently fired for sloppy manicuring work on an earlier harvest, had guessed wrong about harvest time and arrived too late to steal fresh buds, so they had trashed the interior of the house and fled.
The caretaker never woke during the night-time burglary; he showed up when Hardcore and I were in the house, trying too hard to apologize for being a useless human guard dog. He was fired two weeks later, after Hardcore had transferred all plants and equipment out of the house, transferred ownership of the house to a real estate sales consortium, and transformed the interior and infrastructure so nobody would ever know that the house had been used for a massive marijuana operation.
|Fine Jamaican clones: the current fave flavor in BC`s commercial grow sector.|
At one house Hardcore and I visited, feverish activity was transforming the structure into an industrial agricultural facility.
A squad of interior re-designers was inside, knocking down walls or building new ones. They were creating a series of 400 square foot rooms that would be lit by 10 to 20 1,000-watt Agrosun and Hortilux bulbs per room. They were building plywood shelves that would hold a growing medium called Sunshine Mix #4, which consists of quality soil, sphagnum moss and perlite. They were installing drains, reservoirs, pumps and other water systems to ensure that plants had water and that their growing trays could drain properly.
They were fiberglassing trays and other surfaces to prevent water damage. They were covering walls with shiny white polythene plastic, taping room corners, cutting holes in the plastic at designated locations to facilitate wiring, ducts, pipes, and other infrastructure, installing fixtures and wires, and then sealing the cuts.
They were ripping out electrical systems and putting better ones in, installing security systems, and putting lights, bulbs, dehumidifiers, odor control devices, CO2 generators, reflectors, and ballasts where they were supposed to be.
To put it as simply as possible, the exterior of the house would now be a facade, a hollow shell that provided cover for the house’s new function as home for plants, not people.
For those of you who are ready to invest a few hundred thousand in start-up costs to build a grow house that will eventually earn a million dollars per year in profit, and for those of you interested in seeing techniques pros use to maximize their yield and profits while minimizing risk, this article, and the one to follow next issue, will provide very useful details!
|A wall of ballasts: plenty of power!|
BC Hardcore believes that fresh 1,000-watt bulbs are capable of providing adequate lighting for 15 to 20 plants per light in a 16 to 20 square foot area per light. He says that after three crop cycles, the bulbs should always be replaced.
He prefers to use a ratio of three Hortilux (HPS) lights for every Agrosun (Metal Halide) light; he says that when the reddish spectrum of HPS lights dominates the color temperature of a grow room, the plants will be shorter, denser, and will finish earlier.
While the rooms are being fabricated or upgraded, electricians are also re-wiring. They visually and electronically inspect every circuit and wire in the house, and usually are forced to install new circuit boxes and wires because electrical systems deteriorate over time, especially in wet climates or where there are rodent infestations, and because regular electrical systems cannot handle the wattage necessary for a commercial grow.
The typical circuit in your living-room, for example, can process about 15 amps of power. Other circuits in your house which supply heavy-duty appliances such as ovens and washing machines can process 30 to 50 amps of power.
Lights used to grow marijuana suck down a lot of power. Most commercial growers use 1,000-watt lights because such lights provide adequate penetration and illumination, especially in situations when clones are used in the densely-packed “sea of green” method. A 1,000-watt light consumes about nine amps of power. BC Hardcore’s electricians told me it isn’t safe to load a circuit at higher than 80% of its rated amp output. Thus, one 1,000-watt light is about all a typical 15 amp circuit can safely feed.
Lights aren’t the only electricity hogs in a grow house. Air conditioning units, fans, dehumidifiers, pumps, and security equipment also require many watts of power, so electricians must outfit commercial grow houses with circuitry that can handle loads that total thousands of amps.
Hardcore says that a simple way to calculate electricity needs is to allow 1,600 watts of power consumption for each 1,000-watt light. This consumption rate total includes all the other electrical devices ? air conditioning, fans, dehumidifiers, etc. ? needed to support the grow system.
Most of the commercial grow houses built by Hardcore run 50 to 100 lights. As much as 80,000 watts of power is needed during the daylight cycle of a typical commercial grow room. To decrease power consumption and balance the load of electricity demand, many commercial growers use “flip-flop” devices that switch electrical loads between different grow rooms. In a flip-flop system, ballasts are on 24 hours a day, but the flip-flop unit switches the ballasts’ power output to lights in various rooms as needed, so that only 50% of the lights are on at any one time.
|A bounty of bodacious buds, basking under an indoor Sun.|
After total electrical load has been determined and adequate circuit boards, wiring and other equipment have been put in place, Hardcore has to figure out how to get enough juice to the system. Buying power from the provincial public utility, BC Hydro, is out of the question, because BC Hydro (along with most other power companies) is an active partner in the drug war.
Power companies have sophisticated computerized monitoring programs that identify grow operations, not just based on unusually high consumption but also based on patterns of consumption. The initial telltale spike in power consumption that occurs at the beginning of a light cycle in a multi-light commercial room can be “seen” by electricity company monitors. The utility’s spy software can also recognize the steady consumption of electricity that feeds lights in the 18-hour or 12-hour cycles used by growers during vegetative or floral growth phases.
Hardcore and other commercial growers defeat BC Hydro by stealing power. Hardcore claims that about 50% of BC Hydro’s former and current workers are helping marijuana growers steal power, or are operating grow houses themselves, using 100% pirated electricity.
Power companies usually employ hundreds of energy-theft inspectors who look at power lines and examine power meters from the street, and in people’s yards.
In rural locations, or when houses have basements or other secure spaces that can be insulated, soundproofed, and vented, commercial growers install power generators that use propane, natural gas, or diesel fuel.
A generator that can supply enough power to support a 50-light grow room has to put out about 80 kilowatts of power; a quality used generator with this capacity costs about $25,000. Generators generate ongoing costs, logistical concerns, and safety concerns due to fuel purchases, fuel transport, generator noise, and fire danger.
Hardcore says growers who intend to use a generator should buy one that shuts down if there is low fuel oil or if the “hertz cycle” or voltage is too high or low. He recommends outfitting the device with a noise-dampening muffler. The best type of generator engine, according to Hardcore, is an overhead valve engine with cast iron sleeves in the cylinders.
|Generator used by BC Hardcore|
The payoff for commercial growers is huge. BC Hardcore diagrammed the agricultural economics of big grows as follows: It costs about $120,000 CDN to initially outfit a house to make it a commercial grow. This does not include the purchase cost of an average 2,000 square foot house, which can hold a 75-light operation growing 1,100 plants that produce 150 pounds of top-grade sinsemilla every eight weeks.
Ongoing costs after start up are about $11,000 per month. The cost of a mortgage is on average $15,000 down, and $1,000 a month in mortgage and property taxes for the kind of house that growers prefer. Thus, the first year cost of running a 75-light commercial grow is approximately $277,000. Costs decrease after the first year.
With proper quality control and nutrients that produce at least two pounds per light, a 75-light grower can harvest about 900 pounds of cannabis per year. Cannabis sells for an average of $2,300 CDN wholesale, which results in gross sales of about $2 million per year.
Even if we upped the per year expenses to $350,000 per year, the profit on a 75-light, 2,000 square foot grow house is $1.65 million per year. If the grow consortium wanted to pay cash for the house ($300,000), profits would still total more than a million dollars per year, right from the start.
Next issue we will present part two of this series, revealing the details of how BC Hardcore transforms a regular home into a super-clean, space-age grow environment that features the potential for million dollar profits every year.