April 21, 2016

Meet Dr. Peso, One of D.C.’s Marijuana Home Growers

By Avery Kleinman

Home cannabis plants growing in Northeast D.C.

Home cannabis plants growing in Northeast D.C.

Inside a modern apartment building in Northeast D.C., past a gym where residents are lifting weights and a lounge where a resident is practicing the cello, a 25-year-old Washingtonian is doing what he considers his passion: growing cannabis. He converted a side room where others might house an additional roommate into a full-blown marijuana cultivation operation.

The man, known as Dr. Peso, at least on Instagram, has asked to remain anonymous because he says growing weed is prohibited under his lease.

yellow room

Dr. Peso’s cultivation room.

While his landlords may not like it (and are free to write lease terms reflecting that), growing cannabis is permitted under D.C. law. In February 2015, 70 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of Ballot Initiative 71, making the District of Columbia the first city on the east coast to permit residents to grow marijuana at home. Adults over 21 can now grow up to six plants in their residences.

More than a year after Initiative 71 passed, exact numbers of home growers are difficult to come by. Some, like Dr. Peso, keep their gardening operations secret because it is prohibited in their leases. Others hide because of the stigma attached to cultivating what the federal government still considers a “Schedule One” drug with “no currently acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Local employees of the federal government who are growing have especially good reason to keep mum: In the months after Initiative 71 passed, the Office of Personnel Management posted a memo reminding workers that marijuana is still forbidden and that possession could–in some cases–be a basis for firing.

In his grow room, Dr. Peso is currently cultivating several strands of cannabis, including Blueberry Kush, Cannatonic and a “mystery plant.” He says he chose to grow Cannatonic because the strain is high in CBD, or cannabidiol, the component of marijuana that is frequently touted for its medicinal value.

“The Cannatonic is one that I personally cannot wait to try and see how it makes my body feel,” he says.

Freshly cut marijuana plants from @dr.peso's crop. Photo courtesy of @dr.peso.

Freshly cut marijuana plants from Dr. Peso’s crop.

Dr. Peso uses marijuana to treat his epilepsy, which he was diagnosed with in kindergarten. As a child, he would get the kind of seizures where “he would just stare off into space.” But as he matured, the seizures got progressively worse. By high school, he was experiencing grand mal seizures –“the traditional seizure when you see someone shaking on the ground, possibly foaming from the mouth,” he says.

Dr. Peso says he tried five different pharmaceutical medications to treat his epilepsy, but nothing worked until he tried cannabis. He says the positive medical effects were confirmed for him after he had a particularly bad seizure and ended up at a hospital.

“They tried to give me a whole bunch of drugs to numb me…None of the drugs were working, so I convinced my mom to take me home so I could smoke. I felt ten times better. [I] was able to go to sleep, wake up and eat something,” he says. “Then, halfway through last year I saw that if I did not drink, I went to bed on time, ate healthy, and just had some type of marijuana, not a lot, but something in me throughout the day, I could stay up late. As long as I have some type of CBD traces in my blood, I feel, at least in my head, a lot more safe.”

Since smoking daily, he says the frequency of his seizures has dropped dramatically. So far this year he has had two seizures. Before using marijuana, he was averaging between 35 and 50 a year.

Dr. Peso doesn’t take any other medications currently. While he carries a medical marijuana card for use in D.C., he prefers to grow his own supply. Local dispensaries are too expensive and sell low quality product, he says.

“I can tell that when I go to California to a dispensary there and look at the product that they have and when I come back here I look at this product, it’s not the same quality. It’s Whole Foods versus Wal-Mart.”

@dr.peso's cannabis plants. Photo courtesy of @dr.peso.

Dr. Peso’s cannabis plants.

In addition to his landlords not allowing him to grow, Dr. Peso keeps quiet about his growing operation because he has three misdemeanor charges for marijuana possession.

“I’m not really trying to hide from the police as much as I’m not trying to disturb anybody,” he says. He says his neighbors aren’t aware that he’s cultivating cannabis inside his apartment –despite a discernable odor outside his door.

“There’s nothing that would indicate that I was growing in here. I keep everything real private, throw my trash out,” he says. “The thing you need to do most when you grow is be clean. It’s cleanliness. It teaches you discipline. You’re not going to be a master weed grower and be sloppy or be undisciplined.”

Dr. Peso says he felt relieved when Initiative 71 passed, but now feels that the law is impractical. For someone who depends on the plants for medical reasons, like him, a crop of six plants is not enough.

“Growing marijuana on a small scale is a very recreational thing but if you’re somebody who actually needs the plant you’re going to want to have 20 plants, you’re going to want to have a greenhouse,” he says. “In gardening, anybody’s mother would be able to tell you if you get a bad case of a bug, there goes your crop. This is just farming 101.”

Dr. Peso shares his crop with his friends and relies on their donations to keep himself going financially. Eventually, he hopes to make his hobby a full-time career.

“My aspirations are to be a master level grower who can grow on a large scale and in a legal manner. It’s only a matter of time,” he says. “I want to go to work every day with passion, I want to enjoy what I do. And what I enjoy is growing weed.”

All photos courtesy of Dr. Peso.

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