Pubdate: Sun, 03 Feb 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Page: A1


Inside the suite of a nondescript industrial park in west Phoenix, an 
armed security guard in a bulletproof vest guards dozens of tents 
filled with lush plants that supply medical-marijuana patients 
throughout the state.

All day long, men and women with varying medical conditions swing 
through the doors of the cultivation center to tend their crops, 
allowing fresh air to seep into the office suite, which reeks of a 
musky, skunklike odor. As hard-rock music blares, the growers measure 
nutrients, roll blunts (cigars), prune plants and prepare buds for drying.

When they need pointers on yielding the best harvest, they go to 
Bruce Barnes, a 32-year-old "master grower" who works for the center 
and specializes in growing highly potent marijuana that patients use 
to treat ailments ranging from cancer to chronic pain. Barnes helps 
patients and caregivers grow high-grade marijuana using sophisticated 
techniques to manipulate the plants with light, nutrients and air.

Arizona's medical-marijuana era is still young, and Barnes is one of 
the few expert growers in the state who works for dispensary 
operators or cultivation sites that stock the drug for some of the 
33,601 patients who are permitted to use it under state law.

While marijuana is illegal in most states and under federal law, it 
is still a plant and, like any successful farmer, Barnes can simply 
look at one and determine its variety and health condition.

"It's like being a sommelier of wine," said Robert Calkin, president 
of the Cannabis Career Institute, a California marijuana school. "You 
have to be familiar with every aspect of the method of creating the 
medical marijuana. You have to be able to identify strains of 
marijuana, know all the different kinds, know how to grow all the 
different kinds, know all the different methods and know how to grade 
and judge the values of it just by looking at it."

At 6-foot-4 with a goatee and dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt that 
covers tattoos on both arms, Barnes presides over one of the largest 
grow sites in the state. Since Arizona's program is so new, the state 
has the potential to become a mecca for growers who can produce 
cost-effective plantations of marijuana that smells good and tastes 
better. Already, growers from other states are flocking to Arizona to 
sell their skills, seeing potential in this unsaturated market.

Behind the office doors, Barnes is known by some as the "marijuana king."

He can look at plants and quickly determine whether pH levels are off 
or if diseases are developing. In this line of work, a career is made 
by growing buds that can pass the muster of both discerning marijuana 
aficionados -- such as longtime medical-pot users and growers -- and 
amateur patients who seek specific strains to treat specific ailments.

"It's mentally challenging because you're not just thinking about the 
day," Barnes said. "You've got to be planning out the next two 
months, so you're constantly cloning and preparing for plants to move 
into flowers."

Still, he said with a crooked smile, "I can't imagine doing anything else."

Must register with state

Barnes is allowed to cultivate under the Arizona Medical Marijuana 
Act, which was passed by voters in 2010.

The law allows people with certain medical conditions, including 
chronic pain, cancer and muscle spasms, to use the drug after 
obtaining a physician's recommendation.

They must register with the state, which issues identification cards 
to qualified patients and caregivers, who can grow 72 plants for 
themselves and up to five other patients.

But by this time next year, state health officials expect most -- if 
not all -- marijuana cultivation to take place at dispensaries or 
off-site grow centers, similar to the one where Barnes works.

The Arizona Department of Health Services, which oversees the 
program, can license up to 126 dispensaries in designated areas 
statewide. As of Jan. 30, six dispensaries were operating in Phoenix, 
Tucson, Cochise County near Willcox, and Williams. Four more 
dispensaries could soon open.

Patients can obtain up to 21/2 ounces of medical marijuana every two 
weeks. There is no limit to how much marijuana a dispensary or 
cultivation center can grow.

Maximizing quality

Barnes works to maximize quality for the estimated 60 caregivers who 
rent space at Compassion First Caregiver Circle's grow site near 26th 
Avenue and McDowell Road.

One recent morning, he started his day checking nutrient levels, 
dipping a digital monitor into giant blue barrels that hold solutions 
of water and organic nutrients that feed the plants. He adjusted the 
warehouse's temperature, climate, light, humidity and other elements 
that control the plants' growth stages.

"It takes some time to learn the plants," he explained, as he 
crouched down to analyze a stalk. "You really just learn how to 
adjust things on the fly."

Barnes walked in and out of the 7-foot-tall black canvas tents that 
house the plants. He cut clones and replanted them. He schooled one 
grower, a caregiver, on how to rid his plants of spider mites and 
another on optimal pH levels.

Barnes, who bought pot from friends and smoked it as a teen growing 
up in Mesa, never aspired to be a professional marijuana cultivator. 
Back then, he figured he'd find a career in a science field -- maybe 
biology or marine science.

But he followed in his father's footsteps and started working in the 
construction industry as a painter. He smoked every now and then 
recreationally and started using marijuana medically -- but illegally 
- -- around 1999 to relieve knee and shoulder pain from high-school 
football injuries and an all-terrain-vehicle accident.

Barnes got into the medical-marijuana industry in 2001. He moved to 
Rollinsville, Colo., and started working as a low-level bud tender at 
an indoor dispensary, where he used some of the skills that his 
grandfather, a Gilbert farmer, taught him.

"I grew up on the farm," he said. "When I felt that I could make a 
better product, I'd use my knowledge of gardening, and so it all came 

Barnes read books about growing medical marijuana, traded techniques 
with other experts, watched video tutorials and kept up with new 
research, honing his skills and experimenting with different 
nutrients, strains and hybrids. He worked his way up to lead grower, 
overseeing the growth of 25 to 30 pounds of marijuana each week and 
supplying three dispensaries.

In late 2009, he returned to Arizona and restarted a painting 
business with his brother.

In 2011, a year after Arizona voters approved the medical-marijuana 
law, Barnes was on Craigslist looking for painting jobs. He clicked 
on a page and ended up on an advertisement looking for expert 
medical-marijuana growers.

He answered the ad and interviewed for the job, touting his 
experience in Colorado. He was hired in January 2012. "They weren't 
just looking for a closet grower," he recalled.

Variety of ways to grow

Some home growers still cultivate marijuana out of their closets, 
reminiscent of the days when high-schoolers and hippies tried to hide 
their plants from parents and prying eyes.

Barnes recently gave up growing marijuana at home, where he tended it 
in a professional tent set up in a shed attached to his house. (His 
wife is going to law school and he didn't want to jeopardize her career.)

There are many ways to grow marijuana -- indoor, outdoor, with soil, 
hydroponic, aeroponics, to name a few.

The rise of legalized medical marijuana over the years in 18 states 
and Washington, D.C., has led to a surge in indoor growing by both 
patients and cultivation centers that invest in expensive hydroponic 
systems, which generally use water, nutrients and non-soil mediums 
and can cost thousands of dollars to set up and thousands more each 
month to operate and maintain.

Barnes uses a hydroponic drip-to-waste system that uses a soil 
substitute, which allows him to control nutrient levels and maximize 
output. The buds are green, sticky and studded with crystals -- 
characteristics of high-quality marijuana.

Barnes is constantly trying to improve his methods but models part of 
his technique after Ed Rosenthal, a renowned California cannabis 
grower and horticulturist, and other well-known growers.

Rosenthal, author of "Marijuana Grower's Handbook," published in 
2010, said no method is better than another.

"If you speak with 10 gardeners, you have 20 ways of growing things 
like tomatoes -- and that's the same with marijuana," Rosenthal told 
The Arizona Republic in a recent phone interview. "Everybody's right 
- -- there are millions of ways of doing it, and people are constantly 
developing their own ways of doing it."

Many growers also experiment with different strains, which are said 
to treat different ailments.

Sativa strains, for example, are typically used during the day 
because they provide pain relief but generally don't affect a 
patient's ability to be active. Barnes said sativas are often used to 
treat conditions such as depression, nausea and chronic pain and tend 
to suppress the appetite.

Indica strains, meanwhile, are best for nighttime because they induce 
what Barnes calls a "couch lock," meaning they induce intense 
sedation and help treat pain, arthritis, insomnia and other conditions.

The science behind the effectiveness of marijuana in treating medical 
conditions is clouded in controversy. Some research generally 
indicates that marijuana is effective in dulling pain, controlling 
nausea and treating other ailments. But opponents question the 
legitimacy of such studies and argue that marijuana use could lead to 
additional health risks.

Most agree that more research needs to be conducted to determine 
marijuana's effectiveness. Such efforts, however, are hampered by 
federal drug-control laws that restrict marijuana research.

Research -- or lack of it -- doesn't prevent patients and caregivers 
from using marijuana for medical purposes.

Those like John Batchan, a Phoenix ticket scalper, still report to 
the cultivation center day after day to tend their crops. He said 25 
years of walking around venues to sell tickets has taken a toll on 
his feet. Batchan became a medical-marijuana patient last October and 
began growing at the center about three months ago with help from Barnes.

"As you can see, I've got a green thumb now," Batchan said while 
taking a break from watering a tent full of plants.

Marketable skills

Barnes' green thumb is highly marketable.

Already, he is being wooed by other dispensary operations that want 
him to run their grow operations.

Barnes says expert growers can make "a good amount of money" -- in 
the six figures -- but he won't discuss his salary.

Barnes and other industry experts say growers are hard to find in 
Arizona because the industry is in its infancy here.

Some growers are migrating here from California, Colorado, Montana 
and other states that have an established medical-marijuana industry.

Dispensary operator Mark Steinmetz said growing experts will likely 
find success as dispensary owners look to professionalize their 
operations and maximize output.

"It is basically an agricultural skill set," he said. "You have to be 
part botanist, part farmer to know how to grow in some kind of 
volume. A lot of people can do it in small grows ... but taking it to 
1,000 plants is a whole different situation."

It's a skill that many are trying to learn.

For example, cannabis experts from Burbank, Calif., will teach about 
50 participants in March how to tend buds as part of training 
sessions in Phoenix, said Calkin of the marijuana school. "In Arizona 
right now, there's a great need for grow experts. Generally, we try 
to come to Arizona every couple of months."


Best buds

There are many varieties of medical marijuana, and some strains 
better treat specific illnesses, according to growers. A few popular varieties:

Blue Dream: Used as an appetite suppressant, and for nausea and pain. 
Induces euphoric high.

Haley's Comet: Used to treat depression, arthritis, to boost energy. 
Induces euphoric, social high.

OG Kush: Used to treat chronic pain, nervous-system conditions, many 
other illnesses. Induces deep, hypnotic high.

Confidential Cheese: Used to treat chronic pain, sleep disorders, 
eating disorders. Induces sleepy high.

Afghan Kush: Used for extreme pain relief, insomnia, anxiety, to 
stimulate an appetite. Induces heavy sedative high.

Source: Bruce Barnes
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom