The Space to Grow: Underground Cultivators in the District
April 1, 2022 @ 9:00am
It’s almost like Initiative 71 has a veil of some sort. I-71 gives consumers the opportunity to dabble in the cannabis agenda but not quite enough room to dive right in. The fact consumers are able to gift marijuana along with a non-cannabis purchase allows for a lot of wiggle room and creative opportunities for recreational brands to grow.
The less mainstream technicalities of I-71 allow residents to cultivate up to six marijuana plants in their primary residences with no more than three mature plants. The veil of I-71 is not so mysterious: It more or less acts as a buffer to keep the marijuana market from exploding in the District.
The underground culture of D.C. cultivators is subtle but prolific. A lot of urban growers are turning toward cultivating their own cannabis behind closed doors. Due to marijuana’s stigma, many cultivators still prefer anonymity and are known by their “grow name,” similar to a stage name for artists.
MoDose (aka Morgan Crooks), for instance, is a cultivator who channeled her love of urban farming into growing cannabis. She started off by growing tomatoes and peppers and her curiosity led her to apply the same skills to growing cannabis.
“I was so nervous attaching myself and my name to it,” Crooks continues, “and honestly I was like ‘What’s so taboo about it? What’s the big deal? It’s normal.’”
Her favorite method of ingesting is cooking with the concentrate made by harvesting sugar leaves on her plants. Sugar leaves are the small, sometimes colorful leaves that hold the flower together at the top of the plant. They contain high amounts of cannabinoids, terpenes and trichomes which give the leaves a frosty appearance.
Crooks explains how she can tell if the harvest is flourishing by how visible the trichomes are on her sugar leaves. Her grow process allows her to personalize her marijuana and the benefits each cultivar may bring.
“You can control the quality, grow for yield and grow for the flavor,” Crooks says. “You can customize it.”
Crooks uses a water culture hydroponic system that constantly oxygenates the potted plants using an air pump submersed in the water underneath it. She grows both Maui Wowie and White Widow because she likes the benefits these varieties provide. She gifts her concentrates and flower to close friends and family members who use the products to help treat insomnia.
There are several benefits to growing cannabis — but Crooks explains how the process takes patience. It’s more than just putting a seed in the soil.
“You think you know when you had your first success grow and then there is always something and there is no clear path,” she says.
Another cultivator in the District, CornFedTed (aka Ted Colbert), mentions part of the reason he grows is for the medicinal benefits. He started growing when his next door neighbor was diagnosed with cancer and the doctor prescribed him medical marijuana for treatment. Soon his neighbor started growing his own medicine and Colbert started learning the ropes. Coupled with refusing to pay expensive dispensary prices and plenty of trial and error, Ted eventually became a thriving cultivator.
Using organic soil to grow his plants, Colbert found himself cultivating efforts to help his older family members, friends and even their parents. Anecdotally, he suggests the cultivars he gives to his loved ones are able to help with conditions like insomnia, anxiety and pain management. For his uncle, he explains how he makes lozenges for him and even extracts tincture to give to his mother. Cultivars that yield the strongest benefits are Sugar Plum and Blood Orange.
He agrees cannabis is medicinal and can be used to assist with relieving qualifying conditions. However, for growers there are several barriers to entry when it comes to expanding cannabis cultivation under I-71, even when it’s for medicinal purposes.
“When it comes to expanding and getting a cultivation license, growing in the District is challenging,” Colbert explains. “When you’ve paid all the fees and done all the prerequisites, you’re at roughly half a million dollars if you’re doing it right. And then you still might not get the license. It’s almost like a gentlemen’s club with the city for cultivation licenses. It’s a social equity issue.”
I-71 is a young initiative with plenty of room to grow. Ensuring the veil of I-71 is transparent enough for growers to cultivate up to six cannabis plants — but opaque enough to keep expansive cultivation just out of reach — is coming front-and-center as more growers emerge in the District.
Looking at historical patterns of D.C. legislation and how cannabis is becoming more decriminalized and legalized across the country, I-71 could possibly shift with it. In everyday conversation marijuana is becoming more normalized. We can even point to the rising popularity of D.C.’s very own National Cannabis Festival as a suggestion to this trend.
Aimed to celebrate and educate the community about good cannabis cultivation, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival on Saturday, April 23 opens its doors to the National Cannabis Championship. This competition is a way to normalize cannabis used medicinally and for pleasure by creating a stage for cannabis cultivation.
The judges will vote on the following categories: DC THC Flowers, Virginia THC Flowers, Hemp Flowers, Hemp Edibles and Hemp Topicals. Due to restrictive state laws, the championship can only welcome THC submissions from D.C. and Virginia. Flower, topical and edible hemp submissions are welcome from the Mid-Atlantic states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
MoDose summarizes marijuana cultivation when she says, “Growing is an ever-evolving thing.”
Simply put, I-71 should take off the veil and evolve with it.
Find MoDose on Instagram @themodose and CornFedTed around the Columbia Heights neighborhood. Search on leafly.com for more information on the strains listed. For more information about the science of cannabis visit leafwell.com. Don’t miss the National Cannabis Festival on April 23.
National Cannabis Festival: 2400 E Capitol St. SE, DC; nationalcannabisfestival.com // @natlcannabisfest
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