Bud Men

Despite the risks, local pot farmers have taken homegrown high-tech

Mark Printz kept a mistress at his rented one-story house amid the quiet loops and cul-de-sacs of the Welleby subdivision in Sunrise. Another lover lived a few doors down. His wife did not know about the latter, but she was well acquainted with the one who occupied more than half of the house at 9341 NW 41st Pl.

Printz had been conducting this type of live-in affair on and off for more than six years. His long-time lover's name was Skunk #1 x Northern Lights #5, a potent, high-yielding hybrid that combined Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, the two species of marijuana most commonly found in the United States. As with all of Printz's previous indoor growing operations, every plant -- from the towering "mother" in the closet to the infant and young adult "clones" in the office and bedroom -- was female, and a virgin.

The plants were lovingly cultivated using the sinsemilla technique, which involves using cuttings, or clones, from a mother plant, allowing them to grow roots, then helping them ripen into mature, unfertilized females that in their sexual frustration will generate prodigious amounts of sticky resin on their buds. The resin is intended to catch the pollen from a male marijuana plant; it also happens to contain large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol -- or THC, marijuana's psychoactive ingredient.

Inside the tree-shrouded house, Printz nurtured his unspoiled harem with an efficient, fairly high-tech hydroponic setup. Eight 40-inch trays and one 25-gallon reservoir were arrayed in each of the two bedrooms, with pumps to drip-irrigate the roots of the thriving clones. Whatever amount of nutrient-enhanced water the roots did not absorb was collected in the trays, returned to the reservoir, and recirculated. Above the trays 1000-watt high-pressure sodium lamps on moving tracks provided simulated sunlight, and perforated tubes periodically released carbon dioxide to enhance photosynthesis.

"I loved what I was doing, I loved spending an hour or two in the rooms, keeping them really clean and looking at the plants. It was a very enjoyable thing," Printz reminisces in a broad Long Island brogue. The plants, he says, reciprocated his devotion, offering up their flowers every 55 days, supplementing his income bigtime. Allowing for his own (admittedly vast) consumption and giving a lot away, an average crop grossed about $16,000 on the black market -- the only market that exists for pot, of course. An initial investment of $4000 or so in equipment purchased from local hydroponic-supply houses had been paid for many times over.

But when he speaks of this time, now some two years past, Printz doesn't dwell on the money. It's the growing itself that fills his thoughts, from the mechanics of installation -- ripping up the carpet and painting the walls and floors white so "everything looked professional, like right out of the pages of High Times magazine" -- down to the tiniest detail of the grow house -- the pH level of the water, the brand names of the nutrient fluid and cloning solution he used, the correct parts-per-million level for the CO2. And the fact that everything he gave the herb, it returned to him.

Marijuana is a faithful mistress. People, though, are fickle.

"You can see the different stages," says Lt. Juan Garcia of the Miami Police Department's Special Investigations Section, opening a three-ring binder on the desk in his cramped but tidy office and leafing through the plastic-sheathed crime-scene photos from a truly impressive hydroponic marijuana grow house.

Indeed, the color photos illustrate the entire cannabis growth cycle with textbook clarity. The infant plants reside in a solidly built homemade humidity dome under fluorescent lights. Adolescent plants have been transplanted into five-gallon paint buckets. What once were the house's bedrooms now hold tall, mature plants -- replete with their precious, resinous buds -- ensconced in long rows of PVC pipe, which circulates the nutrient-enhanced water that feeds their soilless roots. The closets are full of cut plants, hung upside down from wire racks to dry, bristling with buds that can fetch anywhere from $2000 to $5000 per pound.

"Here's a shot of the root system," continues Garcia, who has been investigating narcotics for nine of his fifteen years on the force. The young plant in the photo is growing out of a bucket that's covered with a black plastic lid and equipped with a drip-irrigation pipe slightly larger in diameter than a swizzle stick. An officer has lifted the lid, exposing the plastic basket containing rock wool, a spun-fiberglass material through which the pale roots of the plant twist like the tentacles of a Portuguese man-of-war.

Another picture, a closeup of the buds. "Here's what I was telling you about -- you can see the crystals on there," Garcia says, his voice measured and matter-of-fact yet not without a hint of admiration. "It almost looks like snow."

The next image shows an empty grow room with eight long PVC pipes with holes cut on top to give the impression of giant reed flutes extending across the floor. The lieutenant with the meticulously trimmed moustache and the immaculate office points to minute details in the photo. "Look at that ductwork," he marvels. "The room was self-contained -- the doors leading out of the house were sealed. This is one of the nicest ones I've ever seen."

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