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Five tips for growing and selling marijuana like a pro – from a university instructor

The developer behind a Canadian university’s online course for prospective cannabis professionals offers key advice for success in the newly legal business

A worker tends to cannabis plants. Growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale is not the same as running a professional operation, warns Tegan Adams. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Corbis/Corbis

A worker tends to cannabis plants. Growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale is not the same as running a professional operation, warns Tegan Adams. Photograph: Abir Sultan/Corbis/Corbis

Last modified on Wed 20 Sep 2017 19.44 BST

I f you’ve had enough of your nine-to-five’s wearying toil, perhaps a change of vocation is in order. The Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver can recommend an intriguing alternative starting this September: selling pot.

The shady-looking fellow on the corner will tell you that you hardly need a college diploma to sell weed for a living. But Kwantlen’s new 14-week online course will sculpt aspiring dealers into professionals in a robust – and newly legal – field.

The course promises to be a rigorous survey of the landscape of marijuana production and sale, educating prospective growers in everything from irrigation to marketing.

So what exactly makes for a good professional manager of marijuana for medical purposes?

I spoke with Tegan Adams, the programme’s developer and primary instructor, to get a clearer idea of what those eager for education in the discipline can expect.

1. Don’t rely on past experience

There were, of course, “various growers doing it long before it was legal” but even pot veterans find their expertise distinctly lacking. “People have done the best they can given the resources,” Adams says – but growing marijuana for personal use or illegal sale isn’t the same as running a professional operation. “I’ve noticed that there is a pretty big labor shortage in the marijuana industry,” says Adams. “That’s one of the major problems we’re facing right now: there’s no training anyone can take.”

She continues: “A lot of people have been growing for 20 years. That’s great. Chances are they are very knowledgeable about growing the plant. But when it comes to regulations, financials and everything to do with exchange, they have no idea how that part works.”

That’s where Adams and the programme come in. “Having a standardized education system is going to be important to the licensed producers and anyone doing it legally going forward.”

2. Get to know the logistics

Growing and selling marijuana the proper way is rather more difficult than simply popping a plant under a black light in your closet. Doing it right means planning to grow on a large scale – and planning to deal with large-scale problems.

“As with any agricultural crop,” Adams says, “there are going to be ongoing issues with pest management that you need to look at.” Energy consumption, too, poses challenges few people consider. “Indoor facilities especially have huge electrical bills,” Adams points out. “For a four- to five-thousand square foot place you’re looking at around $30,000 a month. That’s a lot. That’s $360,000 a year for the lights in just a small facility.”

A marijuana field. Photograph: Stephanie Paschal / Rex Features

Preparing for such eventualities is a key part of any business plan. “If you were going to grow any crop, you would sit down and make your production plan. You would look at how much money you would spend on different input, and also look at how your production and labour are going to work within regulations.” Of particular importance is the MMPR – the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which govern the production of pot for legal use and sale in Canada.

Then there are “environmental monitoring and sanitation issues” unique to the growing of weed. “I think the main challenge,” Adams concludes, “is that marijuana is an agricultural or horticultural crop but it’s being regulated from a pharmaceutical perspective. One of the major challenges is joining the agricultural and pharmaceutical ways of doing things.”

3. Build a client base – and keep them

“A lot of people are buying marijuana,” Adams says. “There’s no doubt about that.” But does that mean the would-be marijuana seller has a built-in clientele? Not necessarily. “It’s going to be quite competitive,” she warns. “There are conglomerates who have already joined. There’s some big money involved. And I think you’re going to see a lot of it move more in that direction.”

The solution? “We need to focus on consumer satisfaction. How do you get your messaging out to your patients? How do you retain them, make them happy, answer their questions? How do you get their loyalty?” Answering those questions, Adams says, is “how you’re going to stay in business in the end”.

One advantage the educated and licensed pot purveyor has over his illegal competitors is consistency. “With legal products you know exactly what you’re getting,” Adams says. “There are pesticide tests to make sure there are no residues on the plants. If you get it from an illegal supplier, those guys aren’t allowed to test their products. You have no idea what they’re putting on their plants. You don’t know how they’re handling it. If you get it from a licensed producer, you know that it’s clean and a lot safer.”

4. Build a boutique brand

With so much money in the marijuana game, it may be difficult for the independent supplier to stand out – unless independence is seized upon as a virtue.

“The main thing that’s important is to make a boutique brand rather than a mainstream one,” Adams says. “As long as that mom and pop store is able to market to its local consumers, it will stay in business. And people in its area may even buy more than they would from, say, Advil because they know them and trust them and like their brand.”

Legal in Canada … for medicinal purposes. Photograph: Alamy

But in the end, it comes down to loyalty and marketing: “With beer and wine the marketing and branding is important but the flavours really contrast. Marijuana strains vary, but in terms of actual flavouring there may be less variation. So it has to do with branding.”

If you’ve got a good product, you’ve got to get it into your customer’s hands and have them come back.

5. Be a well-rounded grower and seller

“I’ve done a lot of consulting work,” Adams says, “and one of the main issues that I see, especially in startups, is that there’s a knowledge gap between the marketing guys and the people on the ground. The people who work in the facility really need to be able to communicate with the patients and marketing side of things, and vice versa. It’s important that both sides understand each other.”

For the prospective grower that means knowing both the production side of the industry as well as the sales: you’ve got to be as good at producing pot as getting someone else to pay for it and smoke it.

For Adams, it’s about a union of personal assets. “You need to be someone who is able to balance technical abilities and social and communications skills,” she says. “Maybe understand numbers and look at finance and know what they need, but can you then go and talk to an upset customer and know what they need, too. That’s the key. Having both skills is necessary.”

The developer behind a Canadian university’s online course for prospective cannabis professionals offers key advice for success in the newly legal business

Cannabis For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cannabis is a broad topic that covers buying cannabis (marijuana), using it (medicinally for cancer or glaucoma or other diseases and recreationally), complying with various laws, growing it, working in the industry, starting a cannabis business, and even investing in cannabis. This Cheat Sheet touches on only a few key topics.

The 3 Primary Cannabis Strains

Whether you’re buying, consuming, or growing cannabis, you need to know the differences among the three primary strains from which all well-known hybrid strains (such as Pineapple Express and OG Kush) are grown.

Strain Structure Characteristics Best for
Indica Short, bushy

Condensed root system

Dense, heavy buds

Relief from pain and inflammation

Long, slender branches

Expansive root system

Long, narrow leaves

1 Requires a shift in duration of light/dark to flower.

How to Differentiate Among Key Cannabinoids

Cannabis contains a variety of chemical compounds called cannabinoids that act on receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce different effects. They also work synergistically with one another and with other chemical compounds to enhance the overall experience—a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.” Here, we compare the best-known cannabinoids.

Anti-erythemic (reduces redness in skin)

Anti-proliferative (may slow the spread of cancer cells)

Relief for nausea/vomiting

Inhibition of prostate growth

Slow the progression of certain neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s

PTSD relief of panic attacks

What Are Terpenes and the Cannabis Entourage Effect?

Terpenes are aromatic chemical compounds in plants that give them their unique aroma and flavor. They may also work synergistically with cannabinoids and other terpenes to enhance the overall effect of the cannabis — a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “entourage effect.”

Terpene Aroma/flavor Effects
Carene Woody (cedar, pine) Dries excess bodily fluid, including tears and saliva, may cause dry mouth and eye sensations
D-Limonene Citrus Aids in the absorption of other terpenes through skin and mucous membranes, anti-anxiety, immunosuppressant, antidepressant, antibacterial, gastroprotective, kills breast cancer cells
Geraniol Floral (rose) Mosquito repellant, protective against neuropathy
Humulene Earthy, hoppy Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-proliferative, anorectic (appetite suppressant)
Linalool Floral and sweet citrus often found in lavender Anti-anxiety, sedative, local anesthetic, analgesic, anti-convulsive
Myrcene Earthy, hoppy with tropical fruit Sedative, analgesic, antibiotic, muscle relaxant
Terpineol Floral (lilac) Relaxation
Terpinolene Floral with a smoky woodiness Highly sedative, anti-microbial, anti-proliferative
α-Pinene Pine Anti-inflammatory, bronchodilation, anti-microbial, focus and memory enhancement
β-Caryophyllene Pepper, clove, spice Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-anxiety, antidepressant, antioxidant, anti-microbial, gastroprotective

10 Tips for Growing More and Better Weed

When you’re growing your own cannabis (marijuana), the two goals are more and better. Here are ten tips to get you there.

  • Start with feminized seeds. You won’t get buds from a male plant (sorry guys). Buy feminized seeds at your local dispensary or grow outlet.
  • Use quality soil. Soil must absorb moisture but also drain well. If in doubt, buy a pre-mix soil from a local nursery. A soil made for tomatoes works well for cannabis too.
  • Upsize your container. If the container’s too small, it stunts the plant’s growth.
  • Use the right nutrients at the right times. During the vegetative stage, use a fertilizer with high nitrogen, medium phosphorous, and high potassium. In the flower stage, switch to a fertilizer with low nitrogen, medium to high phosphorous, and high potassium.
  • Increase light intensity. Generally speaking, the more intense the light, the bigger and more productive the plant. Just be sure not to burn the plants and, if you’re growing photoperiod plants, that you switch to a 12-hour on, 12-hour off light cycle when you’re plants are ready to enter the flowering stage.
  • Increase CO2: When growing indoors, if you increase the light intensity, add CO2, so the plants can take full advantage of the increased light intensity. The CO2 concentration should be between 700 and 900 parts per million (ppm) during the vegetative stage and between 1,200 and 1,500 ppm during the flowering stage.
  • Prune your plants. Remove low branches that aren’t receiving light, dead or yellowing leaves, branches that are growing up through the center of the plant, and, during the flowering stage, any fan leaves that are sitting on other leaves or preventing light from reaching other parts of the plant.
  • Train your plants. You can use various techniques to make your plant grow more horizontally, thus exposing a greater area of the plant to light and increasing flower production. Techniques include trellising, low-stress training (LST), and scrogging.
  • Flush the grow medium. Up to two weeks prior to harvest, flush the grow medium with pure reverse osmosis (RO) or distilled water to dissolve and remove accumulated salts that can negatively affect the way the plant burns and tastes.
  • Harvest at peak potency. When about a third of the trichomes turn amber and most are cloudy white, your plant is ready to harvest. Trichomes form the sticky crystal substance that covers the bud; they contain most of the cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant.

8 Reasons to Think Twice about Starting a Cannabis Business

People who are passionate about cannabis often dream of starting their own cannabis business. A huge percentage of those businesses fail, and not necessarily due to a lack of effort or expertise. Here are ten reasons why you may want to think twice about starting a cannabis business:

  • Federal taxes: Due to federal 280E legislation that disallows traditional income tax deductions for cannabis businesses, your business income will be taxed at an effective rate of 75–95 percent.
  • State and local taxes: While most state and local taxes are passed along to the consumer, these taxes raise the prices of products for consumers, which can negatively impact your sales.
  • License fees: A license to open a cannabis business is likely to cost more than $60,000! In addition, you’ll probably need the help of a high-priced consultant or lawyer to guide you through the application process.
  • Compliance costs hassles: The rules and regulations governing cannabis businesses are costly and complex, and you’d better follow them to the letter or you stand to lose that license you paid over $60K for!
  • Competition: Competition in the industry is stiff, including competition from black market sellers who may be able to undercut you on price because they don’t pay taxes.
  • Criminals: The combination of cash and drugs is attractive to criminals, who are willing to snatch both. Your business will be a prime target.
  • Inaccessible banking: Most banks are prohibited or reluctant to serve cannabis businesses, meaning all transactions must be in cash. You even have to pay your employees and your taxes in cash.
  • Limited access to bank loans: You can’t get a loan from a federally insured bank, because they’re prohibited by law from profiting from cannabis.

Discover the different strains of cannabis, get tips for growing better marijuana, and think twice about starting a cannabis business.