How Grow Houses Work

Managing a Grow House

A U.S. federal law enforcement agent removes grow lights during a raid on a medical marijuana club in California. While such operations are legal under California state law, they are still criminal operations in the eyes of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/­Getty Images

­As with any business, marijuana grow operations vary greatly in size. On one end of the spectrum, you have mom-and-pop operations: pot enthusiasts and medical marijuana growers that manage, at most, a grow room or two. A dedicated small-timer might even set aside a large portion of his or her home to cultivating cannabis. Full-blown grow houses, however, often aren't even inhabited by the people who own them. And the operators themselves may manage as many as a dozen grow houses in a given area.

You have two factors at the heart of most grow house operations: money and management. Sometimes, they're wrapped up in the same person or group of people. Other times, the funding for a grow house comes down from secretive investors and organized crime. Either way, someone has to oversee the purchase of materials, renovations, setup and staffing in person.­


Plus, if you're going to fill a space with millions in illegal cannabis crops, you're going to want to avoid pesky landlords by purchasing the property. In some cases, grow house operators buy the houses they use, using crooked real estate agents and taking advantage of loose lending standards. Other times, the larger criminal organization pays for the property and merely places the operator in charge of running it. As with any illegal undertaking, the people with the most money tend to distance themselves as much as possible from the actual illegal activity.

­Once a grow house is up and running, someone has to see to daily care and maintenance, as well as provide security against other criminals who want a slice of the cannabis pie. In the Pacific Midwest, Vietnamese immigrants fill many of these positions [source: NPR]. Some operations in the U.S. and Canada use a form of indentured illegal immigrant labor. When criminal organizations smuggle individuals into a country, they often demand payment in the form of labor. Some are shuffled into prostitution, others wind up tending indoor marijuana crops. When it's time to harvest, the operator may bring in additional, temporary workers.

­So why does anyone have a problem with secretive neighbors who mostly keep to themselves? In the next section, we'll look at why some homeowners consider grow houses bad neighbors.