Richard Lamb thinks it’s inevitable: As acceptance of legal marijuana grows across the United States, many entrepreneurs will need lots of grow space for their plants.
After one false start, he’s positioning himself to be a supplier -– not of weed, but of a turnkey model for owners of self-storage facilities that either want to convert their businesses into marijuana grow operations or build them from scratch.
He wants his company, Denver-based Grow Space Storage, to be the go-to resource for the aspiring cannabis cultivators. Lamb describes the concept as “the only warehouse where you can grow, harvest and store, so all the dangers you can experience in a home environment, you can take out of the home and put in our environment.”
Lamb said it cost $900,000 to set up the 24,000 square foot facility.
“We’re the first in this country to attempt to do this,” said Lamb, 50, one of the company owners and its chief operating officer. “I get at least three calls a week; 39 different investor groups have called me from Canada and the United States, seeking a licensing model from us.”
Lamb halted cannabis cultivation at its Denver facility after only three weeks because in a surprise move, the city passed an ordinance restricting the number of plants that such a facility could grow to just 36.
Denver rushed the ordinance through because there were individuals who got around the six-plant limit for growing plants at home, stacking the rights of others on top of their own and winding up with dozens of plants. Lamb said he understood the city’s reasoning.
So he went back to the drawing board and reinvented the Grow Space Storage model.
“Then we did our lobbying, repackaging the system and perfecting our pods,” he said. “The pods are in their third iteration. So we’ve improved those dramatically. And we started packaging a policy and process to help cities get through the adoption phase.”
He’s creating programs to license out Grow Space Storage’s marijuana grow program around the United States. And a group in Ottawa has contacted Lamb, just in case Canada’s new Liberal Party government approves the use of marijuana.
Lamb also has contacted city council members, police chiefs and fire chiefs around Colorado, seeking to teach them about the safe ways to enable marijuana grow facilities.
“We have spoken to 15 cities as of now,” Lamb said. “Four or five are seriously considering it.”
Lamb said he’s hearing from owners or potential owners of self-storage facilities, who ask what it takes to either convert an existing facility into a marijuana grow spot or how to create one from scratch.
He’s ready to explain all the pros and cons to anyone who’ll listen as he is no stranger to business.
Lamb previously worked in banking, building systems for the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Bank of America, Countryside Systems, Fidelity National and others. He left that field in 2008 to work as a consultant, and in business development and project management.
A risky industry
He’s willing to talk, but none of the players or potential players in this field would comment for this story. And the one person who did speak knew nothing about Lamb’s plans.
“I haven’t heard about it, and I haven’t had any members ask me about it,” said Jackson White, board president of the Colorado Self Storage Association; he has self-storage facilities in Broomfield, west of Denver. “I don’t know where he’s getting his data or his business plan. I am just not familiar with it.”
White also mentioned that recreational marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“So if you have a self-storage facility with a bank loan, it’s still a violation of federal law,” White said. “You would have to be careful about it from that standpoint. If you converted to an active marijuana place, you run the risk of the bank calling your loan.”
Waiting for the green light
As for the 24,000-square-foot facility in Denver, Lamb is leasing out the south side (15,000 square feet) to growers of other plants that aren’t marijuana—such as herbs and vegetables.
The units, which Lamb has dubbed pods, come in two sizes: 4’x4’ and 4’x2’. The 4’x4’ is big enough to grow six tomato plants. Costs range from $179 to $349 a month.
Lamb will use the north side (11,000 square feet) as a showcase about the marijuana grow industry. “We’ll create an awareness of the industry and the dangers of growing marijuana at home,” he said.
As for why customers would want to pay money to grow marijuana at a facility, Lamb said home growing carries too many risks.
For starters, additional plants and lights can take over your home and raise your utility costs. There have been reports of dogs getting electrocuted in such homes. The crime threat rises as neighbors figure out when your marijuana is going to be ready.
Other potential problems include: mold spores, apartment owners and homeowners associations that forbid marijuana grows, respiratory problems, neighbors complaining about the smell — the list goes on.
“We create a warm and fun environment, kind of like a community garden, with security, neighborly help, everything you need to get great grow results,” Lamb said. “We don’t grow the plants at all, but we provide a turnkey situation where people can grow it.”
Lamb said there are several major considerations for self-storage facility owners thinking about moving into marijuana growing:
• Retrofitting a current facility. “Can you roll something into those rooms, plug it in and power it up?” Lamb said. “The biggest concerns are power for most self-storage facilities. Most have a 120-volt connection. You can plug in a radio and light, not personal ecosystems.”
• Lighting. “These plants are very finicky and extraordinarily light-sensitive,” Lamb said. “Most do 12 hours on, 12 off. You’re replicating the sun and night in these environments. If someone opens a flashlight in a dark room, you can (change the sex of) these plants.”
• Pest control. An infestation of spider mites can wipe out an entire facility in a few days; it’s easy for your neighbor’s pests to invade your grow space.
Lamb believes his business model will find true believers.
“The people involved in this don’t come from the stoner class and instead come from the business class, and are taking traditional business practices to the industry,” he said.