The bar is well stocked at J.R.’s house, nestled quietly in a well-to-do neighborhood not far from downtown Fort Worth. Booze is in short supply — three dusty wine bottles sit forlornly on a shelf. This bar’s bounty is green, red, and gold flowery buds sprinkled on trays and in baby-food-sized jars. It’s a cornucopia of cannabis, enough to make any connoisseur’s toes curl.
Mexican dirt weed?
J.R. doesn’t touch it. He’s a trained budtender with a diploma earned at Oaksterdam University, the pot college in Oakland, Calif. With a second home in California (and a medicinal marijuana permit in that state), J.R. buys nothing but the best pot, hydroponically grown with precise formulas of water, light, temperature, and nutrition for maximum effect. (Like all the pot aficionados interviewed for this story, he asked that his full name not be used.)
This ain’t your pappy’s weed. “Hydro” is several times stoner, er, stronger.
Domestically produced marijuana has been transformed into a major, sophisticated industry in this country, including in states like Texas, where pot is still illegal. People in the business are perfecting product development and growing techniques, and all over the country there are entrepreneurs like J.R., already clandestinely in business but waiting for the day when pot is legal –– a day they see rapidly approaching.
Five years ago, about 90 percent of the pot sold in North Texas could be categorized as Mexican weed. Now hydro has taken over about half of that market.
American pot farmers produced about 22 million pounds in 2006, worth about $35 billion, according to a report published that year in the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform. Texas didn’t rank among the top 10 states in outdoor marijuana production, but came in at No. 5 for indoor growing (115,000 pounds annually).
The same report listed pot as the country’s No. 1 cash crop. Corn and other crops are grown in greater volume, but, according to the Bulletin, none match weed’s production value — not corn ($23 billion), soybeans ($17 million), or hay ($12 million).
Of course, accurately determining how much pot is grown and smoked is kind of like trying to fence in a butterfly.
“It’s just a wild-ass guess,” said Terry Nelson, who spent three decades in law enforcement, including stints with the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. Now retired, he’s a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals who disagree with current drug policies. They say legalization would cripple cartels and street dealers.
“If there is one [grower’s crop] you are stumbling on, there are probably a thousand that you’re not,” he said. “Cops always use the 10 percent rule: You catch 10 percent of people doing something wrong and know about 10 percent of what’s going on.”
Mexican weed still dominates the Texas market, he said, but hydro is making a big impact.
“We need to legalize these drugs so we can regulate and control them,” he said. “That will reduce about 80 percent of your crime and violence related to the drug trade.”