Outside of Denver, Colo., in an unmarked and heavily fortified warehouse, is a 3,800-square-foot medical marijuana greenhouse. After a tour of the facility, over dinner and a joint, we interviewed master bud tender Brad Livingston*, to find out what it's like to work as a medical marijuana grower.
The money is good. Livingston told us he was making a solid six-figure salary, plus performance bonuses in weed that he planned to sell on his own (if there's actually anyone in Colorado who doesn't have a medical marijuana card).
A subscription to High Times magazine won't get you this job. Brad got the gig because he had a reputation in the Colorado pot underworld as a large-scale grower; his current job is the result of mining 15 years worth of connections.
He also worked at various commercial botanical greenhouses and has experience setting up cooling and watering systems; plus, he's got a good handle on how to cultivate clones and cross strains. He has a sales background as well, which helps him interface regularly with the public to sign up new patients.
Keep reading to find out the work schedule and legal risks.
Get ready for 80-hour weeks. There's a lot of work to take care of 600 plants. You're working on 12-hour light cycles: When you work in the flowering room, which has lights on after peak business hours to lower electricity costs, you're guaranteed to put in several hours of trimming after midnight. And with plants reaching maturation within 10 weeks, the work is nonstop.
Colorado law ties each plant in the greenhouse to a specific medical marijuana patient. Each patient is entitled to six plants, and since the greenhouse is constantly signing up new patients, you're always adding more plants to your care. Because of the job's sensitive nature it's difficult to take sick days since management isn't going to call up a temp agency for part-time help.
The Work Environment
You can mostly set your own hours and there are no staff meetings, but there is one drawback: Reggae is playing through speakers wired throughout the warehouse at all hours. (Not to mention that your friends will constantly pester you for free samples.)
In the warehouse's office is a framed, official city license to operate a medical marijuana greenhouse, so they're complying with both city and state laws. If there's a break-in at Brad's greenhouse the alarm will summon the local police, who stop in to chat all the time.
But federal law, which supersedes state law, prohibits all marijuana cultivation. Even though the Obama administration has ordered the Justice Department to stay away from medical marijuana, there are rogue DEA agents in Colorado who are salivating at the opportunity to bust the growers. Cases could be thrown out but only after high legal bills and a ruinous dope seizure. And nobody knows what the next president will do in terms of enforcement.
Brad has two young kids, and this summer he's a stay-at-home dad, which means he'll have to put in his entire work week at night. He plans to get out of the business within a year or two, partly because it's impossible to figure out if a change in national politics will render him America's Most Wanted, and also because he doesn't want to have to explain to his daughter why he comes home smelling like sticky hydroponic chronic.
Still, if you know how to handle a pair of garden shears while stoned and want to make a ton of money, this might be a good career path for you. At least for a little while.
*Subject's name was changed to protect the innocent man following the laws of his state.