Breaking Into The Black Market

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Roy Klabin talked to “Viktor” – a marijuana distributor who makes an estimated $24,000 to $32,000 per month – about the underground drug economy:

Having a trusted third party transport the weed is the least risky way to get it into the marketplace. “Because you have somebody coming to you, on your terms, paying cash. Boom. Immediately, in one deal, all your illegal weed has just turned into cash. Farmers are eager to offload in bulk, so as buyers we entice them by offering to buy the biggest quantities. The more bulk you buy, the more leeway you have with price.” According to Viktor, it’s a buyer’s market. “There are plenty of people making weed. In California and Colorado, they got more weed than they know what to do with.”

In order to become a broker, Viktor explained, you have to get an in with a farmer—which is no small feat. “It’s easier to befriend distributors than farmers. If you’re a farmer, you’re protecting everything about yourself. Even if you were going to have a visitor, you’re going to black bag their head all the way up. You don’t want them knowing how to get there, remembering anything about where you’re at. If the wrong person finds out about your million-dollar pot farm, they’re going to come up there and kill you. There’s no witnesses, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Meanwhile, Matt Honan investigates the high-tech future of growing and selling pot:

Start with indoor farms, which are massively energy-intensive. Their high-pressure sodium lights, which themselves require large amounts of electricity, can send temperatures soaring. Yet marijuana plants need to stay cool and dry. Traditionally, growers have handled this dilemma by using electricity-gulping HVAC compressors. Colorado company Surna saw opportunity here. It has introduced an energy-efficient climate-control system that uses chilled water. The system pipes a circuit of cooling water through the grow and can even extract water directly from the indoor air to regulate humidity. “This plant is from Afghanistan. It wants to be on a windy hill in semi-arid conditions,” says Surna CEO Tom Bollich. “That’s one thing we can do that traditional HVAC can’t—we can give you 40 percent humidity and 75 degrees.” If Bollich’s name is familiar, it could be that you know him from his previous gig: CTO of Zynga. “I moved on from that, did several startups and moved around, and started looking into the cannabis industry,” he says. “It was the next gold rush, honestly.”

(Photo by Miguel Peixe)