The struggle that experienced cannabis growers in Mass are familiar with is coming to an end. Since the beginning of this year, and as a result of last year’s successful ballot initiative, Commonwealth residents are permitted to cultivate at home—and like that, many of yesterday’s outlaws became today’s authorities.
As for tomorrow’s first-time growers… they won’t ever know the culture of illegal growing, but they’ll probably have to learn from someone who did, one of the cavalier green thumbs from the generations of activists who did all the heavy lifting already. The future of legal cannabis here in Boston is shaped by both kinds of growers and where their journeys intertwine and branch apart.
“I’ve never grown… anything, really.”
Jeff is a first-time grower, and he’s breaking the law. He has two mature cannabis plants strapped in the back seat of his car, and he’s crossing over the Massachusetts border into New Hampshire, prompting worry that he might get caught using his phone in this hands-free state.
Despite being in the middle of his first grow, Jeff doesn’t even smoke weed. He says he is experimenting for the same reasons folks have vegetable gardens, and I only half-believe him at first. “It’s an amazing experience. You see them pop up after three weeks of watering just dirt. You see it pop through, and you think, ‘This is life, happening right before my eyes.’”
In addition to his inexperience, so far Jeff has had some setbacks in a musty basement and dry winter air, both of which have worked against him. At the same time, he did have the advantage of a helpful brother-in-law who set him up with an LED light and the basics and, when the time came, tech support.
“After three or four weeks of watering and not seeing much of anything—a millimeter at a time—I asked lots of questions,” Jeff says. His setup is amateur hour, just a pair of plants in two pots, something you might see in a kindergarten classroom.
“About lighting, how high, how low. About the temperature, about the environment, how much air flow, setting up fans, creating the max exposure to LEDs overhead.”
All this for two plants.
Jeff is four months in when we first speak, and the female plants buckled into his backseat are “full-on” in flower stage. He has stopped asking for constant assistance and estimates he is about ready to harvest.
He’s getting confident.
“I might be the only person who has killed multiple cacti; it’s a pretty resilient plant,” Jeff says. As for his trial with cannabis, he says the plants grew from two seeds of the same strain, Purple Haze, but look very different.
“One is a beanstalk, twice the height of the stocky one,” he says. “The shorter one has more leaves and less flowers [buds]. At the top of the other one, the buds are morphing together.”
Now Jeff is getting really excited.
“Especially at the very top, the ‘cola,’” he says. “The best one’s the size of my palm. I’m not sure how that translates to THC content or weight, but I should get maybe one or two ounces.”
As for the reason behind his plants’ road trip—Jeff is having a friend babysit them while he goes on vacation.
“I feel like I’m missing their first T-ball game!” he confesses. “It’s such a pivotal point in these flowers’ lives.”
For someone who doesn’t use the product, Jeff is emotionally attached. He’s also eager to gift some buds and get feedback.
“Can you really taste the difference?” Jeff wonders, flying blind and enjoying it.
There are bigger, better-funded commercial growers than Kevin. Nonetheless, he’s one of the few guys dropping 20 years of underground culture and experience into the lap of post-Prohibition Massachusetts. He does this through two distinct vehicles: a cannabis culture/lifestyle/grow operation called Beantown Greentown and the IVXX Growers Club.
I’m at Kevin’s house to see the differences between the bare-bones setup of a first-timer like Jeff and the high-end hobby grow of a master. Kevin is just getting back from a IVXX Club meeting, where he serves as the organizer, coach, and mentor to the new growers in the area. It speaks to his philosophy of growing (and living, too, for that matter), that as a top area grower he feels responsible to send the “elevator” back down for the next generation.
“The club is all new growers,” he says. “I didn’t have that. If they go online, the best they can do is get advice from someone like me.”
Kevin gestures at himself as if to say he is an open book, in the flesh.
We finish a tour of Kevin’s intense basement grow-op and have settled on some folding chairs that are mellowed by orange grow lights and the white noise of ventilators. We’re discussing the state of cannabis in Boston, as well as the quality of his bud.
“A dispensary tested a bunch of my strains,” he says. “The Gorilla Bomb tested in the high twenties [percent of THC].”
For those just now tuning in to recent advances in cannabis tech, labs can now gauge more than just THC potency. It’s now possible to quantify a sample’s aroma through the presence of fragrant oils called “terpenes,” as well as more than 400 chemicals that affect the mind and body. That the Greater Boston Area boasts two high-tech testing facilities for cannabis speaks to the brave new world of cannabis science and metrics. Based on the commercial success of states like Colorado and Washington, the expectations for cannabis entrepreneurship in Massachusetts are already very high, and despite ominous warnings from Washington, DC, and the crippling regulations on banking and insurance, there are many wheels already in motion to cash in on the green rush. And then there’s Beantown Greentown.
Beantown Greentown’s motto, “More Weed, Less Greed,” might blow your mind: They don’t sell any weed. Ever. They are a half-dozen growers, activists, advocates, caregivers, and teachers who have given away millions of dollars’ worth of cannabis to epilepsy patients, veterans, club members, and each other at events like the annual Freedom Rally in Boston. Aside from shunning money, their unwritten code includes sharing medicine, raising awareness, and fighting for social justice. Shocking, perhaps, to anyone who learned about drugs and dealers through anti-weed propaganda, but much less surprising if you understand the feeling of righteousness common among growers. They may step into the commercial grow someday, but Kevin says that there would have to be some stipulations.
At their current hobby level, Beantown Greentown is in this thing on principle. I ask about how Kevin could possibly turn his noble, non-profit avocation into a vocation. He has clearly thought about it and about how to keep this movement from turning into Big Pharma or Big Tobacco.
“The pressure to perform and produce is insane,” Kevin says. “It has nothing to do with patients, PTSD, cancer, or anxiety. It’s all about how much money can they make … it’s kinda disgusting. Most dispensaries are rip-off artists, shit herb for top dollar. They should be developing and keeping relationships with people like us, otherwise they buy 3,000 clones and they turn out shitty. But the top digs see those rooms as money per square inch. I hear it all the time: They take all the fun out of growing. Pricks.”
Kevin snaps out of his rant against Big Cannabis and mentions that he’s actually pumped to work with one dispensary that promised to give him creative license and free reign over the operation. They “get it,” he says.
It’s getting late, and one of Kevin’s kids comes in to say goodnight. Following their lead, I say goodbye myself, and am half out the door when he stops me. Kevin’s sitting under a military flag, tattoos across his forearms, very much a king in his castle. He requests, “Don’t make us look bad?”
Like Jeff, the amateur, the next generation will never know an illegal grow op, or the taboo surrounding a certain green houseplant. Like modern people who take maps for granted, the next generation’s safe passage in this new territory was bought with the daring of a few early explorers. Where it goes from here depends on what they take away and what they give back to those who are just starting out.
“Now,” Kevin says, Mass residents are “basically living in Amsterdam.”