It took a while for us to convince M—that’s what we’re going to call him—to talk to us. M is legendary in certain inner circles for growing his own high-grade weed, not out there in the sunshine but indoors by using hydroponics—a system that has been changing the cannabis landscape in India since a couple of years now. M is still a bit on edge when we finally chat, reminding us to not use his name, exact age (he’s a 20-something) or location (lives in Mumbai somewhere) for the fear of cops busting what he has slowly (and lovingly) built over some years not for bragging rights or to make money but just out of, well, passion.
The paranoia is legit in India, where cops have arrested people for growing marijuana plants in their homes and terraces—a criminal offence under The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 that can get you behind the bars for up to 10 years and fined up to Rs 1 lakh.
Ten minutes into our conversation and M comes across more as a gardener than the pothead some might be inclined to assume he is. Discussing the technicalities of what a hydro system of growing involves, his voice carries a tinge of pride for having figured out the complicated process made further complex in a city where you’ve to keep the specifics of your activities on mute. But as hydroponic gardening gains popularity as a way of growing high-grade cannabis the year round, M tells VICE what it takes to do what he does, in India.
VICE: Hey, M. So, how come you started growing your own weed?
M: When you start smoking weed, it’s almost a rite of passage for you to not smoke the good stuff because you have no idea what ‘good’ even is. But as you go, you realise that you need to know what you are smoking and where it is coming from. Else, there is no point to it. If you are smoking what someone is claiming to be legit shit, you need to know whether it’s really grown without using pesticides or other harmful chemicals. I started growing my own weed around 2014-15 to stay away from those bad things, and know that what I will have will guarantee me a nice, clean high.
Do you need to have a green thumb to do this?
It's complicated at the start but you have to have patience for the trial-and-error process to show results. I just started by reading lots of articles on hydroponic gardening. You can’t get it right the first time, especially because the plant is so delicate. I started by going to my local gardener, picking up a small pot and a bunch of other plants to hide the one I was desperately trying to grow. I bought the seeds from Slimjim (which now sells seeds on another platform). My first successful grow was an autoflower because it’s easy to grow in Indian climate and natural light cycle. It was beautiful to watch the buds flower in front of you. I smoked it a month later with my friends, but it didn’t turn out as good as I thought it would be. I still remember it had a watermelon kinda smell
What’s the big deal about the hydroponically grown stuff?
After you’ve been growing weed for a while, you realise that soil is not the perfect medium for it to grow. That’s the first thing about hydroponics—that you grow it without soil to hold the roots, and instead use a water-based and nutrient-rich solution. The nutrients are provided directly to the plants to keep them abundant irrespective of the weather out there. In big cities, we often don’t get the best soil, are inundated in pollution and live in a climate not suited for the plant. There are also pests outdoors. When you move indoors, you have control over all that stuff and hence, your buds are bigger, healthier and more potent. You don’t have to use pesticides and can also train a plant to do a lot more.
So, what do I need to do to have my own quality hydro stash whenever I need it?
I made the switch two years ago, when I built my first grow box, which was the size of a wardrobe. It had lights and exhaust fans, and a shiny reflective plastic sheet for the light to bounce off. It looked like a bright purple room when you entered. I still use normal makeshift pots for containers to plant in. They’re perfectly sized. I order the nutrients off Amazon but there are other industrial sites that deal in these for cheaper.
Then, you need a really powerful LED light to grow it under full spectrum because you’re not giving it any sunlight for photosynthesis to happen. I got LED lights because they’re more efficient and don’t use as much electricity, or are as hot as the CFL ones. You need an AC to control the temperature, and a pH meter to check the pH level of the water and maintain proper balance in your plant food. You can get general hydroponic equipment off gardening sites. But apart from the equipment, it takes a shit-ton of patience. If you do a hobby grow with basic equipment, chances are you might not be satisfied because the waiting period is long. The vegetative period is about 2-4 weeks, after which it takes two-four months to flower and then a month for the drying and curing process.
What is the commercial price of your yield?
What I grow is mostly for private consumption. It’s for myself, and for friends and family who want to smoke. It’s not a very big grow because I’m paranoid about one. But the market rates vary from anywhere between Rs 2,000 to Rs 25,000 for a single gram (compared to decent-quality regularly-grown weed that costs an approximate Rs 2,000 for 25-30 grams).
Wow, that’s steep. How much do you end up spending on your gardening?
I spend a minimum of Rs 35,000 a month for one grow cycle, which lasts four to five months. This is mainly costs for running the lights and the air-conditioning to regulate the temperature. I also pay rent for the place I grow it in and have spent a sizeable amount (that can run into a lakh or more, depending on how fancy you want to go) on purchasing the equipment.
So, basically I can do this only if I am rich?
Ya, unless you’re getting into it commercially, then it can be really lucrative. But you have to be prepared to take risks and face the cops. Some people I know have ordered buds over the dark web, and then cops have raided their scene. I will wait for it to be decriminalised and then do it commercially.
Do you have hope for growing marijuana legally any time soon?
I hope so, man. A lot can be done then. It’s not about just the high part but the medicinal benefits. The extracts are really potent and powerful, and I hope someone recognises the immense benefits that medical marijuana has. But till then, this will be all underground.
What are the best strains you’ve had?
That would be Bubba Kush (an old-school Indica strain known for its dreamy and hypnotic effects) and UK Cheese (a hybrid strain that actually smells like cheese, induces euphoria and is pain relieving).
What’s been the best part about smoking your own stash apart from cutting out your dealer?
It’s all about the learning process. It teaches you a certain discipline. You learn a lot about plants and, in the process, yourself too. It’s very Japanese zen in a way.
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