From Seed to Sale: Behind the Scenes of a Marijuana Shop

A behind-the-scenes look at what's become one of California's most secretive and perhaps most lucrative businesses: pot shops.

Marijuana has perhaps become California's most lucrative businesses but with the passage of Proposition 64, the legalization of cannabis, came restrictions that track the industry from seed to sale. 

NBC 7's Dave Summers followed the secretive process -- from a grow house in Los Angeles to a dispensary in North County San Diego -- with the operators of Tradecraft Farms, one of two legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Vista.

Tradecraft Farms operates their marijuana business different than others because it controls the entire marijuana production process, from manufacturing to distribution to sale.

The process begins at the heart of the Los Angeles warehouse district just outside of Downtown LA. Inside the nursery sits row after row of small marijuana plants in several rooms of a large warehouse.

They are tended by two-tour U.S. Marine Veteran-turned-cannabis farmer, Jose Garay. As Tradecraft Farms' grow manager, Garay is in charge of the first month of the marijuana plant's life.

“I got started in cannabis because my dad got sick with cancer. It really helped him. He actually got relief and was able to sleep,” Garay said.

The genetics of the plants are what Garay finds fascinating. Light, water, and temperature are controlled to mimic the seasons for Tradecraft Farms' 15 strains. 

“If you can find your own strain, then you can control your own market,” Garay said.

The farm's science comes from commercial agriculture techniques used in a critical controlled environment, Sean Curtis cultivation manager said. 

Each plant can produce between $300- to $500-worth of product. The whole process from seed to harvest takes about three-and-a-half months.

"We are connoisseurs, so we look for the good stuff," Curtis said.

Market researchers say California represents the world's largest legal marijuana market. That market is expected to grow 23%, up to $3.1 billion this year.

Prop 64 legalized recreational marijuana in California but it came with seed-to-sale restrictions. So, every plant, flower, and leaf used in manufacturing, even the waste, must be weighed and documented.

The state hired METRC to track and trace commercial cannabis activity in California, so businesses like Tradecraft are subject to random spot inspections.

Cameras are constantly recording at all Tradecraft properties. Growers tell NBC 7 at any time, the state can require them to hand over those recordings.

Customer Leah Moellman suffers from chronic pain. She bought from unlicensed shops in the past, so, for her, state oversight tracking it seed-to-sale adds some level of confidence in the product.

"At least you know you are getting your products from a reputable dealer or farm and that you're not getting some weird stuff,” Moellman said.

Tradecraft Farms has made the history books as one of the first legal dispensaries in North County.

Voters approved Measure Z, which allows up to 11 dispensaries to operate in the community. So far, just Tradecraft Farms and Flora Verde are open for business. Vista still does not allow for recreational sales.

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