There are many ways to grow legal Cannabis successfully. However, the cost effectiveness of each will depend largely on location, type of production, the scale of production, and the costs of labor employed.
When and where outdoor growing conditions are favorable and allowed, capital and input costs are lowest. However, in most states, legal production of marijuana must be done in greenhouses or warehouses. Such production requires significant capital investments in lighting, temperature, and humidity control systems, so comparing initial costs versus lifetime costs of different options is key.
An operation’s choice of growing medium, fertilizer, and irrigation practices also will greatly influence production cost efficiencies. Soil- and potting-mix based systems that are hand-watered will cost less to implement and maintain, but they also require more labor than hydroponic systems that rely on automated fertigation. As for inputs, dry granular fertilizers that are incorporated into growing media are much less expensive than soluble salts and hydroponic solutions. And, both indoors and outdoors, organic production practices tend to reduce overall input costs by improving yields and quality while reducing the need for more costly pesticides.
While there is no “one size fits all” model to optimize returns, there is one general pattern worth noting. Smaller operations (e.g. < 1,000 lbs. dry product per year) tend to do better with more manual growing programs. These cultivators rely mostly on incorporated fertility and hand watering by labor also involved in harvesting and trimming. In contrast, successful larger operations (e.g. >10,000 lbs. dry product) tend to rely more on automation, labor specialization, and redundancy to prevent system failures that could reduce profitability.