Canadian federal law now allows adults to grow as many as four marijuana plants at home for personal use. (Manitobans and Quebeckers are prohibited from doing so by provincial law, and municipalities and landlords could add more restrictions.)
Growing legal cannabis could be as simple as throwing four seeds in a pot and seeing what happens — they don't call it weed for nothing, and cannabis is famous for growing under all kinds of conditions.
But Canadians interested in growing high-quality marijuana at home should be prepared to spend time and money on their hobby, according to expert cannabis grower Jon Bent.
Bent is a designated grower for medical cannabis patients under Health Canada's old MMAR regime, with more than two decades of growing experience. He's also the former owner of two retail hydroponics retailers, and an online hydroponics store. Plus, Bent is the head grower at licensed cannabis producer Bonify in Winnipeg.
The Leaf News visited Bent's Manitoba farm to get basic tips on what prospective cannabis farmers need to know before they grow.
Is it safe to grow cannabis in my home?
We've all heard horror stories about illegal cannabis grow-operations lurking inside suburban homes. Mould and moisture damage are definitely possible, and high-voltage lights are a potential fire hazard if installed incorrectly.
Those risks can be managed with foresight, planning and professional help, said Bent.Advertisement
"Have a proper electrician wire your setup," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing... you'll just have peace of mind."
Proper air ventilation — bringing in fresh air from outside the growing room and exhausting hot, humid air directly outdoors — is the key to preventing mould and mildew, Bent said.
"If your growing air is being discharged into your basement and not going outside, absolutely you will get grey mould, black mould, all over your walls, all behind all of your drywall," he said. "It will be a nightmare."
Keeping your grow area squeaky clean can also help prevent mould or mildew, advised Bent. Plan to dispose of any spare foliage or plant waste, and sterilize your growing environment between crops.
However, even professionally installed electricity and suitable air ventilation might not be enough to convince Canadian home insurers that a legal, in-home cannabis farm is safe.
In a statement, Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesman Andrew McGrath advised home insurance customers to abide by the letter of the law.
"That being said, larger grow-ops, as opposed to a few plants on the window sill, would be more of a problem when it comes to home insurance.
"Insurers are beginning to look at how changes in laws might affect the coverages they offer, however, the operation of a grow-op is a high-risk activity," wrote McGrath, who advised homeowners to check with their insurer before modifying their property.
Do I need a special room?
Growing a bountiful crop of cannabis indoors requires a fully enclosed area in order to properly manage temperature, light and humidity levels.
But there's no need to start putting up new drywall, said Bent: he recommends novice growers purchase a light-proof, vented "grow tent" to house their cannabis garden within another room.
"They're light-proof, they're very durable, they trap all the odour in and they come in a range of sizes, but it's very beginner friendly," he said.
A grow tent with enough room for four plants won't take up much floor space, but might require relatively high ceilings, as the tents can be more than two-metres tall in order to accommodate adult plants. Shorter grow tents — and shorter strains of cannabis — are available.
(A note on cannabis height: In the original version of Bill C-45, home-grown cannabis plants could be no taller than one metre. The House standing committee on health later approved an amendment to remove that height limitation.)
Bent suggests new growers buy their grow tent as part of a starter kit. Such kits are widely available online and include lights, light timers, thermometers and hygrometers, plant nutrients, fans and carbon filters to reduce odour.
Lightly used starter kits are a good option for the novice grower on a budget and are easy to find because many novice marijuana farmers give up and sell their equipment.
"A lot of times growing becomes a short-lived hobby because it is a bit of a challenge and it's not as easy as everyone would think it is, and it takes a little bit of time," he said.
"So a lot of people get in it, and then they get out of it really quickly, much like beer- and wine-making."
What about growing outdoors?
Clearly, indoor growing can be an expensive undertaking. Since cannabis is a plant, why not stick one in the garden outside?
The Cannabis Act allows cannabis cultivation within a dwelling house, including "any land that is subjacent to it and the immediately contiguous land that is attributable to it, including a yard, garden or any similar land."
In other words, outdoor cannabis growing is legal as far as the federal government is concerned, as long as it's on the grower's residential property, though provincial governments, municipalities, and landlords or condo boards have set additional restrictions on where cannabis can be grown.
Some provincial laws include restrictions that could affect the legality of outdoor cannabis growing. In British Columbia, for example, cannabis plants can't be visible from a public place. In New Brunswick, outdoor cannabis plants have to be kept inside a locked enclosure.
Assuming your province does allow outdoor cannabis growing, Bent recommends giving it a try.
"I've built a lot of grow rooms, a lot of nice grow rooms, but you can't replicate what's naturally there," he said. "When you take a plant outside in the middle of summer and you watch it just thrive, it's an amazing thing."
Your ability to grow marijuana outdoors will be limited by available daylight and temperatures. Certain strains of cannabis are specifically suited to life outdoors, so do your research before buying seeds.
It's also possible to build an outdoor cannabis greenhouse, which takes advantage of sunlight to cut electricity use. Greenhouse grower Tantalus Labs, a B.C.-based licensed producer, has released some slick literature with design suggestions for a home cannabis greenhouse.
Where can I get seeds?
Under the Cannabis Act, only seeds purchased from government-licensed cannabis retailers can be used to grow cannabis at home — seeds obtained from unlicensed sources would technically be "illicit cannabis" under the law.
(It's difficult to see how authorities will determine whether home-grown cannabis plants sprouted from legally or illegally obtained seeds.)
Make sure you buy feminized seeds. Only unfertilized female cannabis plants produce the seedless buds desired by cannabis users.
Eventually, licensed cannabis producers should also sell clones, or pre-germinated plants cut from a mother plant (these are also called seedlings). Seedlings are more expensive than seeds, but they spare home growers the time and effort of germinating from seed.
How much time and money will this all take?
Growing a cannabis plant could take from three to four months, plus time to harvest, trim, dry and cure the bud before it can be consumed. Different strains and growing conditions could result in faster or slower crop cycles.
Bent estimates a diligent grower might spend an average of 10 hours a week in their garden, or even more to really do a good job.
"But the rewards are, you're going to have a clean product, you grew it yourself so there's that gratification of doing something yourself, and you know what went into it."
Purchasing all-new materials for an in-home grow tent setup with four plants could cost at least $2,000, Bent estimates. That could yield from one to 1 1/2 pounds of cannabis per harvest (450 to 680 grams of dried bud, or 112 to 170 grams per plant).
For regular cannabis users, the initial investment in a home grow operation could definitely pay for itself over time. Casual cannabis users might not wish to grow the legal maximum of four plants, unless they want a lot of weed on their hands.
Remember, home cannabis growers can't legally sell their excess production; only licensed cannabis producers are allowed to sell cannabis. They can, however, share up to 30 grams of their crop with other adults.
OK, I'm interested. Where can I learn more?
A vast amount of information is available online, but Bent recommends investing in a book — The Cannabis Encyclopedia by Jorge Cervantes.
"It's hard to bring the internet into the garden all the time, and it's kind of messy sometimes, or your hands are wet," he said.
"They call it The Cannabis Encyclopedia, but it really is the bible for any grower. You can't go wrong with that book, it's very good."
Bent also suggests checking out Facebook groups for novice cannabis growers, where you can share information and experiences with other home marijuana growers.