Kiki leads a life that's normal to the naked eye. He works a full-time job in sales, likes to hang at Tobacco Road, and has had no brushes with the law other than speeding. Unlike Razz, who, with his ghetto fade and judicious tats, hits some middle ground between clean-cut and cool, Kiki is practically J. Crew preppy, a Cuban version of Michael Keaton. He wears his hair short, shirt tucked in, and the face of his leather-strapped watch is turned under his wrist. "A real stand-up guy," Razz told me on the way to K's crib, in an attempt to sound Soprano.
In Kiki's apartment, the aroma of herb is hard to hide, even with periodic sprays of Ozium. But the place gives no hint of funny business aside from the unmistakable scent. In fact I've never seen such a tidy bachelor pad before. Up in the attic, though, he unveils the sixteen plants he is currently raising like a proud parent. Whoever says that money doesn't grow on trees has never seen a pot farm. Advances in hydroponics (indoor cultivation of plants without soil) are primarily to thank, or blame, depending on how you look at it. Hydroponics have significantly changed the way pot is grown, especially in Florida where outdoor farming has stammered and indoor growth is shooting up. The DEA lists us as one of the top five indoor-pot-producing states, based on the agency's seizures in 2001, along with Oregon, California, Kentucky (now you know where the bluegrass comes from), and Washington.
Many younger growers start off with a walk-in closet, but Kiki's attic is the suitable six-foot-five. A beginner can build a closet system capable of sustaining between eight and sixteen small plants. All he would need is a 400-watt high-pressure sodium or metal halide bulb (for simulating the sun), a ballast (miniature transformer), rock wool or buckets to grow the plants in, and a reservoir dripping system to feed them. The most expensive component would be the ballast and bulb, and they only cost $150-$200 at any electrical supply store. For a few hundred extra, growers can get fancy with the addition of PH meters to measure the growing medium's acidity ($50-$100), carbon dioxide regulators for sustaining sufficient CO2 levels ($120), and other accessories to increase yield and speed growth; the amateur can put together the basic system for about $600 at any hydroponics specialty store. Gold Coast Hydroponics on Bird Road and 71st Avenue is endorsed by the dealers I talked with, and is one of five hydroponics equipment outlets in Miami-Dade. "Just make sure you say you're growing tomatoes," Kiki warns.
He says a small system with ten to fifteen plants will yield between three and four pounds of dope in about five to six months. That's almost $16,000 for a starter system! More daring entrepreneurs rent out entire apartments or houses to grow ten or twenty times as much with multiple units using the most sophisticated hydroponics money can buy.
Kiki says profit isn't what prompted him to grow, though. He's a fervent smoker, someone who spent anywhere from $100 to $200 on pot a week. Eight hundred a month was a rough nut on a young kid, so he began selling, and he'd hardly sold more than a few bags before he began growing. After moving out on his own a few years ago, Kiki learned "farming" through a friend with a closet full of sprouting weed. "I just wanted to smoke for free. I enjoyed sparking people up and I thought it would be cool to have a small system, but I soon cropped enough to make [real] money. So I expanded," Kiki explains.
Kiki's from a well-to-do Cuban family with a house in Coral Gables who suspect him of growing or dealing pot about as much as they think he's a terrorist. Unlike Razz, his partner in crime, he doesn't publicize his green habit, especially near his family. He almost did once, when he hid pictures of his crop in a photo album and accidentally left it on his parents' kitchen table. He hurried back to find his mom looking through the photos on the next-to-last page of the album, where unmistakable images of marijuana were stacked behind a picture of his girlfriend. "I took the album and ran, saying I was in a hurry," Kiki recalls.
It wasn't a sense of guilt that had him conniving. He wasn't sorry for the porno magazines he kept under his bed either, but he didn't leave those out for his mom to see. He doesn't think what he does now is wrong in any way other than acknowledging he's breaking the law. It's a hobby for him, a hobby that nets him about $50,000 a year, tax-free. Doesn't a young man with a college education, a job, and not another ounce of inclination toward criminal behavior find himself conflicted with the laws against his home business? He says, "No, it's a stupid law and the risks I'm willing to take. I like bud." And he smokes it. Don't get high off your own supply -- that's a line from Scarface to these guys, not a rule of thumb.