While bostonians are excited about Massachusetts recreational marijuana, the businesses involved in the industry are struggling to get into a routine. In particular, growers are finding that the weed is not that easy to grow properly to produce the flowers they are looking for. Nature makes growing marijuana look easy, but controlled Massachusetts recreational marijuana is a different story.
As the first legal grow season for recreational marijuana in Massachusetts draws to a close, newly initiated home growers are coming away with a shared understanding.
Cannabis is complicated.
“I’m a little disappointed. I thought it was going to be a little easier,” Cambridge resident Mary Beth DeGray said. She added, “It really takes a while to get a product that’s smokable.”
Growers have to contend with the medicinal weed’s picky requirements for ph levels, soil nutrients, light, and watering – not too much, not too little – as well as pests like spider mites, and concerns over the plant’s gender (you want females only).
“If you want to get the maximum harvest, there’s a huge amount of steps,” said Jeff Pepi, who owns two cannabis-related businesses in New Bedford – Treebeard Inc., which creates items to help growers, and Growing in Health, a home health agency with marijuana expertise.
“Don’t just use MiracleGro, that’s gross. The bud will taste horrible,” said Pepi, a veteran medical marijuana grower. Also, “Shading of any kind, you’re instantly going to have issues with the density of your buds.”
Outdoor plants will be harvested by October or even early November. Then there’s the curing process, which can take days or weeks.
“You could’ve done all this work and right at the end when you put it in the jar (you don’t care for it properly) and then you can’t smoke it because it’s got mold in it,” DeGray said.
Some growers said fall will mark their second harvest this year, having planted a crop of cannabis in December, as soon as the November 2016 vote went into effect, and choosing buds to pick and dry out in early spring.
“I’ve been home-growing since Dec. 15, since I could legally do it,” Massachusetts Recreational Consumers Council President Kamani Jefferson said. Growing indoors, he added, “It’s expensive. Your electric bill goes up.”
Some growers, like DeGray and Jefferson, said their first harvest was less robust than they’d hoped for – a power failure for DeGray and a mistake in watering for Jefferson led both to harvest early because the plants started withering, with subpar results.
“In order to grow very cleanly, it’s expensive,” ProVerde Laboratories founder and chief scientific officer Christopher Hudalla said. “It’s very hard.”
ProVerde in Milford tests marijuana up to an international standard, looking for pesticides, heavy metals, and residual solvents, and measuring potency levels.
In general, the difference between the homegrown and commercial cannabis his company tests is minimal, Hudalla said. Potency, as well as the amount of product, and how clean it is of contaminants depends on the growers’ level of expertise, he said, and how much the grower is trying to get out of a plant.
“Cannabis is a funny thing,” Hudalla said. “It’s a weed … When we try to control nature, we screw it up.”
For Lunenburg’s Ken McCormick, who tried growing marijuana this summer indoors to ease his partner’s insomnia, the newly legal process was smooth sailing and a big success.
“Neither of us are particularly interested in it from a recreational point of view. It’s not part of our lifestyle,” said McCormick, who grew basil and cilantro alongside his cannabis. “But we’re open-minded and it seemed like something to try.”