Correction to This Article
This article on boutique marijuana incorrectly said that Virginia has no medical marijuana law. A law on the books allows the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer and glaucoma, but because of conflicting laws the state is not considered to be among those that have approved medical use of the drug.
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Boutique buds: What underground mom-and-pop growers did while we debated legalization

Now that medical marijuana is legal in the nation's capital, we look to California's 14-year-old programs to determine what we can expect to see in Washington once dispensaries and cultivation centers open.

At Harborside, Ramsay hands me a list of all of the clones he has received in recent months. The list runs to 222, and includes such choice varieties as Casey Jones, described in "The Big Book of Buds" as a sativa-rich hybrid that is "up, trippy"; Blue Cheese, indica-dominant and "highly euphoric" but "very functional"; and the sativa-heavy Purps, "giggly, blissful."

THC is the engine of the high, but the other aromatic essential oils drive the nature of the intoxication and the palliative effects.

But how has herb with 14 percent THC changed the high? It's quicker to take effect and a loaded THC variety like Train Wreck will be "more stoney," Cervantes said.

Experts such as Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, say the high potency has transformed marijuana for many users into a drug that can induce psychosis and paranoia and increase addiction. "The marijuana people were smoking 20 years ago was much less potent, and that explains why in the past medical consequences associated with marijuana were relatively rare," she said. "Now we are seeing an increase in [emergency room] admissions."

Breeders are now making varieties that are lower in THC but higher in another cannabinoid called CBD, considered helpful in treating illness without the high.

Across town, I meet Jeff Jones, a longtime cannabis activist and instructor at Oaksterdam University who runs a marijuana equipment store a couple of blocks from the school. The growing tents he sells speak volumes about the advanced state of home production. Designed for use indoors with their own lighting systems, they permit furtive cannabis cultivation as easily in, say, Silver Spring as in Northern California.

"I saw them ramping up about five or six years ago," Cervantes says. "They are really a big thing now."

Measuring just 4-by-4-feet and rising to about seven feet, Jones's floor model is made of a rigid fabric that is black outside and a reflective silver within. When zippered shut, none of the light escapes, and the grower can install a filtration system that not only moves air inside but prevents marijuana odors from escaping. The plants begin to reek at the flowering stage, and some varieties are so stinky you can smell them through brick walls.

The grower can raise plants either in soil or hydroponically, in an inert medium such as coconut fiber. In the hydroponic method, a reservoir holds water and nutrients, which are either pumped or wicked to the root zone.

The home grower can get started for less than $1,000.

Growing indoors has obvious advantages over outdoor cultivation: It is private, crops can be grown year-round, and, because you manipulate the hours of light, you can raise four to six crops a year, compared with one or two outdoors.

On the downside, indoor cultivation uses a lot of electricity, which is not only bad for your wallet and the environment but is a way for investigators to detect illicit operations. The latest advances are in LED lights, which use far less electricity and don't need cooling, but can cost as much as $2,000 a unit.

Gettman said people are "flocking" to hydroponic suppliers. A habitual smoker could easily go through $5,000 worth of marijuana a year.

Some growers are wary of Prop. 19, believing its passage would attract large-scale commercial nurseries. Already, there is speculation that wineries in Napa and Sonoma would get into it, as would big tobacco.

Separately from Prop. 19, the city of Oakland is preparing to issue four permits to allow large-scale commercial cultivation of marijuana for medical users. Harborside's founder and chief executive, Steve DeAngelo, remarkable for his pigtails and porkpie hats, is considering throwing one of them (hat, that is) into the ring. He joins me in Ramsay's cutting room cum office. "The debate moves from whether cannabis is going to be legal to how cannabis is going to be legal," he said.

Rosenthal sees a day when cannabis will be grown like another popular and ubiquitous crop. "I like the tomato model," he said, rattling off a possible hierarchy of breeders and growers: giant industrial companies; regional companies; farmers; individuals raising marijuana for cash from their own big back yards, then home growers. "There's room for everybody in that model," he said. "But with all the commercial ways tomatoes are grown, home growers still grow the most tomatoes in the U.S."

So Jorge Cervantes's little backyard patch offers a glimpse of an America he and his fellow cannabis comrades see as becoming not just normal but the foundation of an openly vast marijuana-growing nation. Botanically, Cannabis sativa has undergone a quiet revolution since the baby boomers came of age.

DeAngelo argues that just as the plant has changed, so must we, in our relationship to it. Marijuana, he says, can teach us how to be kinder to the earth and our fellow travelers on it. "We are at a different time in the history of this plant," he said.

Adrian Higgins is a Washington Post staff writer. He can be reached at

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