Living with Mary Jane
A typical indoor grow set-up.
Some girls are risky business
With the passage of local Measure M (which paves the way for the opening of two potential marijuana dispensaries in town) and the recent surge in popularity of medical marijuana, the town of Mammoth Lakes has also seen an increase in what are called “grow-ops,” or home cultivation of marijuana. This is a legal practice in California so long as the grower has a valid medical marijuana card. Beyond the debate over the use of marijuana itself, there’s also concern (and risks) inherent in the grow process.
Even overlooking the fact that pot is illegal on the federal level, there are many inherent dangers not only to your health but also to your place of residence if you grow. If not done carefully and correctly, starting your own grow-op can put an individual and the individual’s home at risk of exposure to water damage, mold, toxic gases, fire, electric shock and even explosions. Growers and property owners need to know of these possible risks.
The issue is well beyond the question of ‘if.’ People are starting grow-ops. The conversation now needs to shift to how people are starting grow-ops, and are they safe and in accordance with the law?
According to the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, a “Basic Physicians Statement and Recommendation” allows a patient to have up to 12 immature plants or six mature plants. The next level of recommendation is called a 420 Exempt, this allows you to have up to 99 plants.
So in order to start a marijuana grow-op, growers frequently have to make major adjustments to the ceilings, walls and basic infrastructure of the home. Marijuana plants require large amounts of water, light and air ventilation (to stimulate the plant and handle the excess moisture).
One of the problems is that people don’t always consult an electrician before deciding to grow in their homes or rental units. “The town doesn’t want to see people setting their houses on fire,” said Scott Calvert of 420 Medicard, “Measure M states that if you draw more than 1200 watts of power, which is basically a couple of lights and a fan, you must have an affidavit signed by an electrician and then have that submitted to the police department.” Calvert went on to say, “I’ve never heard of a setup in a condo or rental unit that hasn’t done some damage to the place. You have to know what your doing.”
Recently I spoke with a local electrician (who wished to remain anonymous) who stated that he got a call about installing two, 1,000 watt fixtures and an exhaust fan system for an individual who said he wanted to build a grow room in his house. Which is legal, but according to a study by the Electrical Distributors Association, grow-ops can consume up to 300 kilowatt hours per day. Though this is considered a larger scale operation, it is 10 times the average household power consumption. According to the same study the likelihood of fire in a home hosting a grow-op is 40 percent higher.
“You just want to make sure you’re not overloading your circuit. The typical ampage for a house breaker is 15 amps. Now you’re only allowed to run that at 80 percent, which is about 12 amps. Depending on your setup you could easily go over your ampage once combined with average household appliances,” said Mike Wright of Wright Electric, a 420 friendly business.
Jorge Cervantes, author of Marijuana Horticulture stated, “ You need to pay attention to electrical connections, ampere ratings for wire, breaker switches and connectors. Not only could you lose your crop but also your life.”
I then spoke with an experienced grower, “Water is the biggest issue for damage,” stated ‘The Green Goblin’ out of Humboldt County (who wished to remain anonymous). “I have all the water drain out of my room through a drainage system. The other thing that you want to worry about is fire. You should keep all of the electrical above the waist.”
These risks are due mostly to the fact that people aren’t always consulting an electrician or constructing their grow-op in accordance with Measure M. This also may be because they don’t have their medical marijuana license, or in some cases if they do, they don’t want to disclose their names and addresses to the local authorities.
To bypass this dilemma, illegal growers will tamper with water systems and electrical wiring to not only avoid the high energy cost, but also to avoid alerting their power company and authorities with high household energy usage.
The illegal grower will usually resort to sub-par wiring from an outside power source (example: siphoning off the neighbor, digging up a major municipal power cable, hooking into the complex’s laundry room outlet, etc.), often drawing more power than the transformer was designed for. It doesn’t take MacGyver to figure out that a spark from a faulty wiring setup combined with oxygen, plus fumes from high volumes of fertilizers and pesticides can equal an awesome explosion.
The risk of a mushroom cloud is increased due to the fact that flammable chemicals are usually found in close proximity to electrical wiring. Here in Mammoth, insecticides are almost always used. “It doesn’t matter what you’re growing, said Patricia Vanders of Red Lilly florists, “spider mites are rampant.” Those pesky little spider mites will definitely kill a marijuana plant, so whether your growing some Alabama Liquid Snake or just basil, insecticides are often used. People growing indoors need to especially avoid insecticides that contain Malathion, which is toxic to humans. Not speaking specifically about marijuana, Vanders went on to say, “If you’re growing anything indoors more than likely you’ll need a humidifier, which can lead to problems with mold.”
Marijuana grows faster and healthier in a dank environment (40-60 percent humidity) so growers in arid climates such as Mammoth use humidifiers and hygrometers because marijuana plants require a steady level of humidity. Without proper air circulation, toxic mold or mycotoxins, can grow within the walls of a home and have been associated with the exacerbation of asthma, infections and allergies. Not to mention the costly damage to the house itself. “I think it would be wise for landlords to get these clauses in their leases. I don’t think people realize how much weed is being grown in this town,” said Calvert.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the average claim last year to repair the damage to a mold infected home was $41,000. Unfortunately many insurance companies have policy clauses that will not cover this type of damage. Instead of paying to repair the home, shady sellers will sometimes plaster and paint over the mold to conceal it. Measure M states that proper ventilation must be “provided as necessary to ensure that indoor medical marijuana cultivation area(s) will not create a humidity, mold or odor problem.”
There is a general misconception that Measure M only applies to dispensaries. There’s a lot of rules and regulations for growing in a private residence, most of which are designed with the grower as well as the grower’s neighbors safety in mind. People in Mammoth are certainly growing weed in a legitimate and legal fashion. But if you choose to setup your own grow-op, consult an electrician, your landlord and read the regulations in Measure M. It might just save a lawsuit as well as your life.