Last week, the courts made it legal for medical marijuana users in Canada to grow their own pot.
Federal Court judge Michael Phelan ruled the current "Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations" that require patients to purchase weed from licensed producers are unconstitutional. He suspended his decision for six months to allow the Liberals to create a new scheme; once that happens patients will effectively be in the clear to get high on their own supply.
But while there are still likely plenty of legislative quirks to work out, the resounding sentiment among my friends was: "I can start my own grow-op!"
The problem is, I know literally nothing about gardening. At best, I am a plant murderer.
My roommate recently asked me to water her plants while she went on holiday and I killed her jade by haphazardly dumping a bunch of water on it, causing several branches (are they called branches?) to break under the weight.
Still, the allure of having a replenishing supply at chronic right at home is pretty powerful, so I asked Al the Alchemist (he said he could turn weed into gold, so I guess he earned this name), an experienced Vancouver-based grower to walk me through producing for beginners. He told me my two obstacles—inexperience with gardening and limited space (I live in a 600-square-foot condo)—are actually no issue at all.
"It's like making Kool-Aid," Al told VICE from over the phone from Vancouver.
"Back in the 80s it would have been a lot harder. You would have had to source info on creating your own mineral profile… Now the industry has afforded the layman the availability to skip all of that and you can get it all pre-packaged."
Here is a basic Martha Stewart-style guide to get you started:
• A basic digital ballast (electrical transformer that powers your light) $150-$200
• A small four-by-four box
• Bulbs—a Philips bulb will cost around $35. For this space, you'd probably want a 400-watt light
• A window or vent
• A pot
• A six-inch inline fan
• Furnace filter
• pH test kit
• Soil—Al recommends Pro-Mix, a peat moss and perlite based mixture available at most hardware stores
• Nutrients—General Hydroponics is easy to work with; grab the tomato recipe
BC-based Remo Cannabrands, which sells nutrients to LPs, also has a good reputation
• Seeds—you're looking for a feminized seed (males ones don't produce bud), and Al suggests brands like Northern Lights, Critical Mass, or Skunk #1 for newbies.
Al cautioned me not to be fooled into buying "top of the line" products—there are LED lights that cost $1,500—when the basics will often suffice.
"So many beginner growers get oversold by grow shops when all they really need to spend is maybe $300 to get started and they wind up with a $3,000 bill."
1. Survey your home. In an optimal situation, you want the lab to be near a window or a place with a vent, like a laundry room. "This will give you a fresh air intake," Al said. Having your plants outside, like on a balcony, can be an issue because you're dealing with the elements and the possibility of neighbours spotting the plants.
"We're just not progressive enough yet," he said.
2. Take your wooden box and cut a hole in the back, near the intake vent, so you have fresh air coming into the box. Attach a standard 3M furnace filter to the hole so the air coming into the box is free of pathogens.
3. Mount your light.
4. Cut another hole in the front of the box and mount the fan outside of that hole.
5. Germinate the seeds. Al said the easiest method is to put four or five drops of vitamin B1 into 500 ml of water and drop your seeds into the water. They need to be in an environment that's slightly above room temperature.
6. Once the seeds split, you'll notice a white shoot coming out of them. Plant the shoot down into the soil—you don't want more than 15 litres of soil for this size of an operation. Let the seeds grow for about seven to 10 days before adding fertilizer.
7. Follow a standard tomato recipe for the fertilizer mix (e.g. General Hydroponics). It'll come in a three-part formula, with nutrient ratios appropriate for different stages of growth, first vegetative, then flowering. During the vegetative phase, which lasts about three or four weeks, you can leave the light on for 24 hours. In the flowering stage, you want 12 hours dark and 12 hours light.
8. Watering. Al believes in an "active method," so he suggests watering the plants every day.
"You're only giving them enough liquid solution so they're going to drink that in 24 hours and they're dry."
9. pH balance is important and should be around 6.8, according to Al. To test this, once a week pour enough water in the pot so that some of it runs out the bottom. Catch the runoff and tests its pH using basic $10 kit—you add the water to a vial with a few drops of the test liquid and it changes colour to indicate the pH level.
10. Yield. The flowering stage, lasts 60-90 days, so that's how long it'll take before you've got anything smokable. An experienced grower can produce about 1 gram of marijuana per watt of light—so a 400-watt light has the potential to grow 14 ounces (that's like 780 joints).
But fuck, that's a long time, even for that much weed.
Despite Al's claims that this whole process is super easy, it's hard to deny that simply handing $20 over a counter in exchange for a couple grams is still a lot easier. That's mostly likely what I'll end up doing after I inevitably screw up this experiment.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.