INDOOR GARDENING EXPO BEARS SOME BITTER FRUIT Self-Proclaimed Abbotsford Medical Marijuana Producer Clashes With Event's Organizers In Hydroponics Debate A rift centred on an upcoming local expo highlights the sensitivities surrounding the indoor gardening technique of hydroponics. One B.C. company that pitches itself as a medical marijuana leader said it is boycotting the fifth annual International Indoor Gardening Expo, which takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre. Yet others are keen to distance themselves from the use of hydroponics for growing marijuana and focus on its applications for other areas, such as gardening and food production. Abbotsford's Advanced Nutrients Inc., which calls itself "the world's largest hydroponics nutrient manufacturer and leader in medical marijuana research, technology and advocacy," recently sent BIV a copy of an ad in which it said it is boycotting this year's indoor gardening expo. "We're sending them a message. I trust they get this message loud and clear," said Advanced Nutrients president Robert Higgins. Higgins added that the company was the biggest exhibitor at the expo last year. Advanced Nutrients, which began in 1997, has revenues approaching $30 million and has close to 100 employees, he said. Its ad features a lengthy list of claims. For example, it stated that "Our company policy of helping medical marijuana patients has not been well received by the hydroponics expo show promoters and by most of the attending exhibitors that have booth space at this years [sic] Indoor Gardening Expo," adding that "There has been extreme pressure by fellow exhibitors to not allow Advanced Nutrients to exhibit at the hydroponics expo this year and in years past." Higgins said the advertisement was scheduled to be in an ad listings magazine last week, noting that he had further plans for magazine, newspaper, Internet and radio advertising. Jim Jesson, the Nanaimo-based publisher of Maximum Yield magazine - a main exhibition sponsor and organizer - said he knew that Advanced Nutrients was not exhibiting this year but was not aware of a boycott. He said Advanced Nutrients wanted more floor space than was available. Higgins said Advanced Nutrients had invested $250,000 in a huge booth. "The space that we absolutely expected was trimmed back to almost one-tenth of what we hoped for." Space issues aside, Jesson stressed that the expo is not a forum for cannabis. "Every year we have a zero tolerance policy for the show, which means we don't allow cannabis in there, because it's illegal," he said. Dave Nelmes, an inspector with the Vancouver Police Department, estimated the police come across hydroponics systems in busts of marijuana "grow ops" about 20 per cent of the time. "Do some people use our products for growing personal quantities without a permit? I'm sure they do," Higgins said. "Do they grow vast quantities illegally? I would imagine they would, you know; we are the leader in what we do. But that I can't control nor do we condone." The local indoor gardening expo began in 2001. "It's grown a lot - dramatically," Jesson said, adding that exhibitors from around the world would be at the event. "Our show is actually a gear show. It's not a politically motivated show to promote or have anything to do with cannabis actually. We don't want to challenge the grey areas of the law. We aren't involved in hydroponics for cannabis, we're involved [in] hydroponics for food production." Another expo participant had a similar view. "I definitely want to get the message out there that hydroponics is not only for marijuana," said Fonda Betts, president and co-founder of the Allie's Group of Companies in Langley. Two Allie's companies - Allie's Wholesale Garden Supplies Ltd. and Grotek Manufacturing Inc. - have sponsored the Vancouver expo since its inception. "It gives us an opportunity to go direct to the end user. We are creating brand awareness," Betts said. "We are a very professional industry, and as the years go by, the industry gets more and more professional." Betts said about 75 staffers are at Allie's Group, which has revenues exceeding $25 million. It supplies hydroponics and horticultural products in about 21 countries, including Canada, the U.S. and Australia. Customers include vineyards, landscapers and greenhouses.