By Nicole Flanigan | Prepared for Newsweed Magazine | November 10th 2019
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is not as affordable or easy to grow as people think. Take it from someone who learned that fact the hard way! Here’s everything you need to know about the long-term cost vs. value of growing your own personal cannabis supply.
As a cannabis marketing professional in Colorado Springs, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of different people in the cannabis industry. I’ve worked with cultivators, dispensaries, edible bakeries and extraction companies, and had the time to talk directly with all sorts of consumers at every level. One thing everyone seems to have in common is their appreciation for cannabis. Selling it, smoking it, washing it, and of course, growing it.
While many people flock here in droves from places like Florida and Texas through the military, lots of people are drawn to Colorado for one thing and one thing only: cannabis and the alure of making money in a brand new industry. People are so excited to work with the green stuff that at least 30% of Colorado residents have tried their hands at growing their own weed at some point.
However, cannabis cultivation isn’t for everyone. It’s not a tricky plant to grow, but it is a tricky plant to grow correctly. Many people rush into it and run into pests and problems that they’re not equipped to deal with. Troubleshooting issues paired with expensive equipment and increased energy costs frequently leave newbie growers and hobbyists in the red after their first few harvests.
All of that work to pull down and dry an inferior newbie-level harvest often encourages people to scrap the hobby all together. That’s why discounted grow equipment is so plentiful on secondhand sites like Craigslist or Facebook marketplace.
If you’re new to Colorado or just interested in trying your hand at growing your own cannabis, there are a few things you should take into consideration before jumping in.
Pros and cons of growing your own, as told by a newbie grower
Like everyone else, I, too, was attracted to growing my own crop. I figured that by growing my own weed, I’d be more in control over the final product that I put into my lungs. I’d also have something to show off whenever I went to pick up new cannabis-industry clients. Ultimately, I was correct. My experience growing has been pretty positive, thanks to a lot of luck and help from people who know more than me.
I find that I can make a better argument for growing than against it. For one thing, growing your own bud is a great way to learn more about cannabis, growing techniques, harvest times, genetics, curing strategies, and rosin tech. If you enjoy working with plants, it’s fun and rewarding, too.
However, there are a few legal risks involved with growing your own weed to worry about. Your grow room needs to be locked and child proofed, or you risk getting into trouble with the law. It also can’t be visible from the outside. Aside from the room, you still have to worry about the cannabis you yield from the grow, too. Recreational cannabis users can only possess up to an ounce of flower at a time, so the only real option is to press the flower into concentrated rosin. Even then, you can’t possess more than an ounce of concentrates at once in Colorado. The laws are different if you are a medical patient with an extended plant count, though.
It just gets a little scary when you throw all of the variables in. Growing your own weed becomes challenging when you take your own lack of knowledge into consideration. Disease, pests, and mold can sabotage a grow and leave you with a tiny yield and a product you don’t want to smoke. Newbie mistakes paired with finicky, exotic strains can also lead to low yields. Lastly, unexpected problems, like your AC or water pumps breaking, will spring up and cost extra you money, on top of your already high electric bill.
The average cost of building your own cannabis grow
Breaking down the cost of a grow is going to depend on a few different factors. You’ll want to take the size of your grow into consideration, as well as the equipment and utility costs, and the cost of spending time working in there. From there, it depends on whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors, and the growing method you choose.
For me, the goal of my cannabis grow was not to have to work in it very much. I spend the majority of my time developing content for cannabis businesses, so I could really only afford to spend a few minutes in there watering every day. I also didn’t want to spend too much on equipment, or time altering the room I wanted to grow in.
With all of that in mind, I chose to do an organic no-till soil grow since it would be the least maintenance and an acceptable startup cost. I did the math and ran the numbers, went out, and bought three lights, three bulbs, all of the equipment, and enough dirt to fill three 30 gallon pots.
In Colorado, the cultivation law states that you can legally grow up to six cannabis plants for recreational, adult-use. Three of which can be flowering at a time. In my grow, I used one 6’x6’ room for both flowering and vegging, saving me some money on energy costs. However, I do have to run a portable air conditioner during the summer to keep the room from overheating under the lights.
With these factors in mind, below, you will find an average cost break down of running a small, personal-scale soil grow. Soil grows are going to always be easier for first-timers than salt or hydro grows, and they often produce better results. Regardless of which method you use, you can plug your own equipment and labor costs into this average sheet to get numbers more relevant to your ideal situation.
The first step to determining if you’ll find value in growing is calculating some of the equipment costs for a small soil grow.
- Lights (up to 1000 watts) $200-$600
- Light bulbs: $35-$100
- Pots: $20-$60
- Soil: $100-$300
- Clones (up to 6): $10-$60 each
- Water purifier: $70-$100
- Oscillating fan: $45-$55
- Carbon filter: $85-$125
- Portable AC: $200-$450
- Troubleshooting products (co2 bags, enzymes, organic pesticides): $50-$150
- Hardware (zip ties, trellis netting, watering cans and sprayers, stakes): $50-$150
Total equipment costs: $885-$2450
The average cost of running your own cannabis grow
All things considering the equipment number isn’t too bad. The real cost calculations come in when you think about time, labor, and electricity costs. Let’s start with labor.
Let’s say that for each hour you spend working in your grow; you spend $10 on labor. If you spent 30 minutes every day watering, you’d end up paying somewhere between $675-$900 between 4.5 to 6 months on watering alone.
During that time, some things are likely to spring up, requiring additional time for troubleshooting. Your plants might need extra attention, trimming, or nutrients or you may have a problem with your grow room. Let’s say you spend one hour in there every month fixing things for the duration of your grow. At $10 an hour, you’ll end up paying $45-$60 each run fixing or improving things.
Additionally, you’ll want to think about your electric consumption. Everybody’s electrical consumption is going to be different based on the wattage of their AC and lights, as well as the way their home is wired and insulated. Your electric bill will also depend on how much time you spend with the lights on during vegging and flowering.
With a no-till grow, the first few runs need to veg for a long time. The soil is fresh, so it needs to spend some time breaking down before plants take to it with ease. My veg cycle is significantly longer than someone who has been using the same pots for several harvests. It’s also considerably longer than someone running a hydro grow. Make sure to adjust your veg and flowering times to make accurate electric consumption calculations.
Continuing with my example, here are the average costs of labor and electricity:
- Time spent vegging at 20 hours per day: 10-14 weeks
- Time spent flowering at 12 hours per day: 8-10 weeks
- Electricity costs for the duration of grow at $200 per month (4.5 to 6 months): $900-$1200
- Time spent watering 30 minutes per day for (4.5 to 6 months): $675-$900
- Time spent troubleshooting 1 hour per month (4.5 to 6 months): $45-$60
- Total energy and labor costs: $1620 – $2160
Monthly cost: $360
With all of this data, you can expect to spend $360 on your grow every month its operational. To run a cannabis grow for a year, you’d pay $4320 in addition to your equipment costs.
What would running my own cannabis grow cost me every month?
Using the example outlined above, you’re guaranteed to spend a minimum of $885 on equipment and clones. You can expect to pay an additional $360 per month every month that your grow is operational. An average harvest takes about 60 days to flower, and enough time vegging to produce a decent yield. Most harvests take anywhere from 4 to 6 months, though soil often takes longer at first. On the low end, you’re looking at $2325 for a 4-month grow.
With the most affordable equipment and a longer growing cycle, you’re looking at $3035. All in all, you can expect to pay somewhere between $2325 and $4610 on your first run in a personal garden.
What are the average yields in cannabis plants?
Figuring out whether or not having a personal grow will be worth it or not depends on a variety of different factors. In a perfect world, you could expect 1 gram of weed per watt on average. At 1000 watts, you’d yield around 35 ounces or a little over 2 pounds.
However, newbies are prone to many mistakes that can lower their yields, including over and underwatering during the veg cycle. Additionally, each strain has different needs, and some are a lot more difficult to grow than others. Quality of light, growing technique, and level of experience will all affect your yields. So let’s be safe and say that you yield a half gram of cannabis per watt for a total of 500 grams or 17 ounces.
In Colorado, the average ounce will cost you about $150 at a dispensary. If you yield 17 ounces from your personal grow, you end up saving $2550 on weed bought from a dispensary.
For your first harvest, you’re going to spend somewhere between $2325 and $4610 on startup equipment, energy, and labor, leaving you in the red on cost vs. profit. This is where many newbie growers give up growing altogether. That first harvest is by far the most difficult since its a more significant cost upfront. It takes some time to get out of the red and start actually saving money.
Even after additional expenses, the grow still costs about $360 per month to keep functioning. If you yielded 17 ounces every harvest, it would take you somewhere between one and three harvests to break even, adding up to 12-18 months of playing catch up. If your electric bill is higher than $200 a month, you can expect to be in the red for even longer.
Is growing your own weed worth doing?
Contrary to popular belief, cannabis is not affordable or easy to grow. Unless you enjoy gardening and find cultivation to be more like a hobby than a way to save money, you may want to stick to the diverse, high-quality cannabis you can find at Colorado dispensaries.
The cost of growing and maintaining a grow for a small personal supply versus yields can be discouraging, so its a good idea to run through the costs and long term values before picking up that used equipment from a guy on Craigslist who was in your eager shoes just a few months ago.
TLDR; Growing your own cannabis cost vs. value
- While everybody wants to grow their own weed, it isn’t as easy or cost-effective as everyone thinks
- Grow equipment is a significant startup fee that will cost you anywhere from $885-$2450
- Running a personal grow costs about $360 per month in electricity and labor
- Each harvest takes about 4-6 months to complete and yields about 17 ounces dry flower, or about a half-ounce when pressed into rosin.
- There are legal risks involved with growing, primarily possession. You cannot have more than an ounce of flower or concentrates in your possession at a time, though a grow often yields more than that all at once.
- Your first harvest will cost anywhere between $2325 and $4610
- It will take about three full harvests (12-18 months) to break even on your starting equipment and operational fees