Pubdate: Wed, 19 Nov 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

S.F. Is the Only City in California to Permit Indoor Grow Facilities, 
and They're Huge


We're inside a former safe factory next to the freeway in a certain 
East Side neighborhood, and we are looking at It.

"It" is a metal box at least six feet high, easily the biggest object 
in this otherwise empty rectangular room that, at one-quarter of the 
18,000-square-foot warehouse's ground floor, is also huge.

Farther down a narrow hallway, there are three other rooms, one of 
which is the same size as the room where we're standing. All of this 
space serves the same purpose, thanks to It.

It cost nearly $300,000, and its sheer importance delayed this entire 
operation for nine months while the owners waited for Pacific Gas & 
Electric Co. to hook It up to the power grid.

It is an electrical box big enough to handle a 3,600-amp power load. 
That's how much juice is required to grow as much as 3,000 pounds of 
marijuana annually, which is the purpose of this factory, the biggest 
and most professional cannabis growhouse I have ever seen.

This is one of the nine city-licensed commercial marijuana-growing 
facilities in San Francisco - the only city in California to inspect 
and license indoor cannabis cultivation - which means that It could 
be the anchor of one of the most sophisticated marijuana-production 
facilities in the world.

"Growhouse" doesn't do it justice.

The empty cavern where It lives will someday produce 200 pounds of 
marijuana per harvest, with five harvests a year. From there we head 
down a hallway lined with hoses and pipes, the system that injects 
nutrient mixes into the plants' automatic irrigation setup. Our guide 
opens a door and we peek inside: Set up on racks that move side to 
side, just big enough for a gardener to squeeze through, are dozens 
and dozens of marijuana plants.

This room, the smallest on the floor, is producing 100 pounds per 
harvest right now, though the plantkeepers are still fine-tuning 
details such as which strains do best with each other, and the exact 
CO2 mix to inject into the room.

This is the property of a prominent San Francisco-licensed medical 
cannabis dispensary, where the pot grown here is sold. It's also what 
a typical commercial marijuana "factory" in Fresno or San Bernadino 
might look like once California legalizes marijuana.

This is also what the end of the illicit grow house - stinking up the 
block or burning it down - looks like.

Marijuana grows perfectly well outside. It was the plant's outlaw 
status that made indoor cultivation the standard. This reality, along 
with skyrocketing demand, sparked a cottage industry in California 
over the past decade that is unlike any other in recent memory.

Amateurs invested in grow lights and ballasts and converted rooms, 
floors, and entire homes into greenhouses in an attempt to cash in. 
Criminals followed suit, turning houses abandoned in the subprime 
meltdown in Vallejo and Stockton into pot factories, leading the 
citizenry to suspiciously inspect neighbors' garbage for stems and leaves.

For once, crime wasn't the problem.

It was fire.

Indoor grows can use as much as 200 watts per square foot. That 
explains how indoor marijuana grows use as much as 9 percent of all 
household electricity consumed in the entire state, as a 2011 report 
from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories scientist Evan Mills suggested.

That's a lot of electricity. And with 4,600 pounds of carbon 
emissions required for every pound of indoor cannabis, that's also a 
lot of fuel. Since 45 percent of California's energy comes from 
natural gas, that's a lot of fracking.

To cut down on bills, illegal growers would rig the house's wiring 
directly to the grid, bypassing the PG&E meter. This, along with 
sending thousands and thousands of watts into an electrical setup 
designed for a fraction of that load, meant growhouses often catch on 
fire. From 2009 to 2013, fire crews responded to blazes at 15 
growhouses in San Francisco, according to the Fire Department. In May 
2009, a firefighter was severely injured fighting a growhouse fire, 
and in September of that year, an illegal wiring setup touched off a 
massive fire that burned six warehouses and caused $4.6 million in damage.

This leads us back to It and why an industrial-grade electrical 
hookup is so important. This rig has passed city and Fire Department 
inspections. The cops know It is here. As do the locals, who say that 
having a pot factory down the street is a "non-issue."

"We complain about illegal grows, about fires, about trespass grows, 
about people taking water from streams," says the operation's 
overseer, speaking on condition of anonymity since his permitted 
enterprise still breaks federal law. "That's all happened because 
government has failed to regulate.

"Here in San Francisco, we have no fires, we have people making a 
wage and getting healthcare, we have good relations with our 
neighbors. Because we're regulated."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom