An indoor grow is "a bank inside of a prison filled with toasters that constantly need to cool down." That's how Brandon Kennedy, the founder of Privateer Holdings, the largest cannabis-oriented venture capital firm, describes it. So I went inside the grow of one of Colorado's premier dispensaries, Denver Relief, to see what it is like for myself. It's even scarier than Kennedy lets on.

The door of "The Prison" looks Sci-Fi scary from the outside.

This indoor grow crams 1,200 plants into 5,000 square feet. The aisles are so narrow I had to step one foot in front the other to proceed.

Hundreds of maturing plants basking in the glow of high pressure sodium lighting.

The illumination in this greenhouse is as bright as an operating room—five hundred times the strength that's recommended for reading. A high-power carbon air-filtration system keeps the humidity level low to discourage the growth of indoor microorganisms. The system changes the air thirty times an hour—sixty times the rate in a modern home. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are four times natural levels to boost plant growth. According to one 2012 study, the electricity used by these grows is sucking up a shameful 1 percent of the nation's total annual wattage.

The environment inside the grow is significantly more inoculated than that of a hospital. Visitors must wear protective booties over their shoes to avoid carrying in potentially destructive creatures, such as the dreaded spider mite, the full horror of which can be appreciated only through the lens of an electron microscope.

The multi-color splendor of healthy, pest-free plants.

This hirsute micromonster affixes to the underside of leaves and sticks its proboscis into a plant's veins to suck them dry. Another scourge is powdery mildew, a floury fungus that spreads so quickly it can wipe out a grow in two days if unchecked. Pestophobia is the reason well-designed grows are subdivided into smaller rooms. If one area becomes infected, the devastation is easier to contain. Losing an entire harvest can cost millions and destroy a business.

Loved this 80s Flashdance-style reminder for weed trimmers.

The day after these photos were taken ten freelance trimmers supplied by the Hemp Temps employment agency descended to snip excess leaves, which will be used for oil production. Each trimmer earns twelve to fifteen dollars an hour depending on his or her skill level. Besides trimmers, Hemp Temps also provides master growers as well as "confidential consumers," who surreptitiously drop into dispensaries to supply "detailed intelligence based on their visit to the assigned location" to owners. In other words, spies to ensure that no product accidentally sneaks out of the grow. It is a highly regulated environment.

Me, all suited up. The coats must be removed every time you switch rooms to avoid spreading pests.

BOTTOM LINE: if fighting mites or mildew excites you, if staying atop ever-changing regulations doesn't feel like herding cats, if, at this very moment, you are contemplating moving to a legal marijuana state to open a dispensary and cash in on the greenrush, then this is for you.


Brave New Weed, Dolce's book on the history and future of cannabis is out today.

All photos courtesy of Joe Dolce.


Republished with permission from Joe Dolce. Produced by Spark No.9