By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Today he has a job to do, and he won't have to leave his home to do it. In a spare bedroom in his northeast Dallas duplex, 35 fully mature marijuana plants are in bloom, their buds ready to be picked and hung out to dry. Harvesting them will take all day, and by the time all of the buds have been trimmed, cured, weighed and bagged a week from now, Ace will be ready to introduce his latest "boutique" strain of marijuana to his faithful clientele. Two weeks later, he'll sanitize his grow room, plant a new crop and begin the process again. On average, he manages four or five good crops a year, each earning him more than $10,000, not to mention all the weed he can smoke.
Sure beats waiting in traffic to go sit in a cubicle--if you don't mind committing a felony.
Ace has been at it for nearly 20 years, starting with a single plant he kept in a 5-gallon plastic pickle bucket in his backyard. He soon discovered an indoor method of cultivation known as hydroponics (see sidebar), which was initially perfected for marijuana by a handful of farmers in Northern California. Hydro farmers use high-intensity lights attached to timers to illuminate their crops. Instead of soil, their plants grow in rock or other media and are fed by nutrients dissolved in water. The result is a cleaner and healthier specimen.
When hydroponically grown marijuana first hit the streets, the word was that the technique produced a higher concentration of THC, the chemical in pot that gets you high. Growers later realized that it wasn't the process but the plant's genetics that made the difference. This led to a fixation on cross-pollinating specific strains of "designer" marijuana and ultimately resulted in the creation of a radical restructuring of prices.
Back in the day, weed was cheap. These days good marijuana costs more than Prada perfume.
Ace is a professional musician by trade, but he has growing marijuana indoors down to a science. Getting there wasn't easy.
"Oh, I was an idiot when I first started doing this," he says. "I can't tell you how many times I screwed it all up by going out of town to do band gigs and leaving it all unattended, by letting my dogs knock over the plants or by letting bugs get into my grow room. After a while, you kind of have to say to yourself, 'Are you going to get serious about this or not?'"
Like many, Ace started growing for his own use, but when he figured out he could make five times more money growing grass than by playing in a band, well...
"It really wasn't a hard choice to make," he says.
A simple starter kit for rookie farmers is available for around $500 from head shops or at landscape suppliers like Texas Hydroponics in Deep Ellum. This includes the light and timer, nutrients and growing bins. For an additional $400 or so, you can purchase a fan and exhaust system that reconditions the air. A roomful of flowering pot plants puts out a pungent, easily recognizable scent--a sort of olfactory 911 call that careful growers would just as soon avoid.
You can learn all you need to know about hydroponics by visiting one of countless Web sites that offer information on everything from the best places to buy marijuana seeds--illegally, via mail from Canada or Europe mostly--to how to cross-breed strains, manicure the buds and tell the sex of your plants, since only females produce buds. The site overgrow.com even offers advice on how to deal with bouts of raging paranoia.
And you thought the Internet was just the world's largest pornography network.
A typical grow room is usually about the size of a walk-in closet, bathroom or bedroom. More brazen growers will rent homes to use specifically as pot farms, with two or three bedrooms each hosting a different strain.
Ace isn't the only member of the Dallas local music scene with a thriving grow room. The cultivation and sale of high-grade marijuana seems to be driving a shadow economy that supports many local musicians while they wait for the Big Break.
"Gene" is the bassist in a high-profile heavy metal band working on their third album. Much of the cost of making their first two records was funded by the proceeds from his pot farm. In fact, marijuana is as valuable as cash within our local agora.
"Studio owners love it when you pay cash. So many of them get stuck with hot checks or bands who can't or won't pay...bands who walk in and say, 'We're gonna be big, just let us record here and we'll make you an executive producer on our album,' or some shit," Gene says. "Man, fuck all that. Having a pocketful of 'Heinous' handy has opened more doors for me than anything. We've actually worked with studio owners who would rather get paid in weed than money."