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Inside a San Fernando Valley warehouse, hundreds of marijuana plants are thriving and federal authorities have no idea. John Cadiz Klemack reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Monday Nov. 12, 2012.
There is a warehouse in the San Fernando Valley that looks like any other, but inside there are rows of plants under intense lighting, fans, classical music and an unmistakable smell.
Video will be posted when available.
On the condition of anonymity, a marijuana grower agreed to share what happens in the warehouse under federal authorities’ noses.
Editor's Note: The grower will be referred to in this article as Mike to maintain anonymity.
"I would say the majority of people involved in it are paranoid, and they should be," Mike said. "In the beginning, I got into it for the money."
About how 10 years ago, a friend helped him establish his first cannabis grow house. Since then, Mike claims to have seven or eight working grow houses around the Southland.
"All over LA County, San Bernardino, Orange County," he said.
In the warehouse garage, there is no marijuana odor. But go beyond two separate doors, and the smell is present. Mike has 96 plants, all growing to a classical music soundtrack.
"They grow better with classical music," he said.
Everything is monitored in the room where lights mimic sunlight -- 12 hours on, 12 hours off.
"We control pretty much every aspect of the plant from the environment to the temperature to the humidity to the nutrients in the water," Mike said.
It is a sophisticated system of pipes and tubes, tubs, fans, plugs and buds. When NBC4 visited the so-called pot farm, plants in the first room still had eight weeks until harvest time. An adjacent makeshift room houses plants even less mature.
"These are the babies," Mike said, referring to another 96 plants that have just begun to grow. "I love it. I could sit here and stare for 10 minutes at a time. It’s mesmerizing."
And it’s illegal. Even though Mike basically has the blessing of the state of California to provide this medical cannabis to dispensaries, what he does is still against federal law.
When asked if he’s scared about getting caught, he replied: "No, because it’s something I truly believe in and stand behind 100 percent."
But here’s where it gets a little foggy: In California, to be legal, collectives cannot make a profit. Mike said he has 40 employees he pays with proceeds. After expenses, he claims to bring in $5,000 a month for each of his seven grow houses.
That equals $420,000 a year.
"Yes, but it’s a salary," he said. "No profit; just like other non-profits get paid. I can’t speak for everyone but those who are making profit are the ones demonizing our industry, capitalizing on every opportunity."
Mike admits his landlord doesn’t know he’s an urban farmer. His latest round of "OG Kush" will yield some 150 pounds of marijuana, a value of $510,000 turning over every 10 weeks. Mike’s partners at dispensaries in the Southland then sell the OG Kush by 1/8 of an ounce – sometimes more – charging $40 to $60 each.
"My biggest concern is staying out of the way of the Feds," he said, "but I don’t see myself doing anything else."
Marijuana has been illegal on a federal level since 1937. California and a number of other states have allowed for its legal use when under the direction of a physician.
Voters in California approved Proposition 215, or the Compassion Use Act, in 1996, effectively legalizing marijuana for medical use.
On Nov. 6, Washington state and Colorado voted to make marijuana legal in all cases – recreational and otherwise. The U.S. Department of Justice released a statement saying it is looking into the new laws but did not comment on the State-versus-Feds facet of the states’ new laws.
Still, Mike doesn’t seem too concerned.
"If I’m really not supposed to be doing something," he said, "the universe will tell me."