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On a recent weekend at Boston Gardener, a Dudley Square gardening supply shop, five people paid $100 each for a one-hour class in hydroponic growing. Store owner Jonathan Napoli’s tutorial was comprehensive, and his approach direct: Here is how to grow your own marijuana, at home and with maximum potency.
“Even if you’re a legal grower, you may want to be discreet about it,” advised Napoli, while attendees took notes on soil mixture, plant cloning, lighting options, and growth cycles.
Still, Napoli said, being discreet was different from being disingenuous — about the class or its goal. Pretense is no longer necessary.
With passage of Ballot Question 3 last November, Massachusetts became the 18th state (plus the District of Columbia) to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Napoli no longer needs to be shy about advertising his marijuana-growing tutorials.
The Saturday classes have been booked to capacity — with six to eight students each — for the past several weeks, said Napoli, who also owns The Hempest, a chain of hemp-product stores with outposts in Boston, Cambridge, Northampton, and Burlington, Vt.
“Now you don’t have to say [hydroponics are] just for growing tomatoes,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest right now in growing cannabis. And I’ve always wanted to be a pioneer.”
Among those taking the class was Julia Dobbelaar of Winchester, who was diagnosed with cancer last spring. Dobbelaar has been using marijuana medicinally since her treatments began. Though she doubted she would be investing in her own growing system, due to her diminished energy levels, she said she has been open about her marijuana use — with caregivers and others — since it has helped her cope with side effects like nerve pain and weight loss.
“It’s helped regulate my sleep and appetite,” Dobbelaar said. “I’ve actually put on weight.”
Even as state health officials and law enforcement agencies wrestle with how to implement the new law — where to establish legal marijuana dispensaries, for instance, and how and to whom to issue permits for growing, procuring, and possessing marijuana — entrepreneurs like Napoli are seeing a new market and reacting accordingly.
He did not handle any marijuana plants during the class — that would indeed be illegal — opting to substitute spearmint and tomato plants instead. On display nearby, though, were guidebooks like “The Marijuana Grower’s Handbook.”
Three other New England states have passed similar medical marijuana laws: Maine, in 1999; Vermont, in 2004; and Rhode Island, in 2006. Possession limits for harvested cannabis or plants under cultivation vary from state to state. Massachusetts allows a 60-day supply for personal medical use. Meanwhile, the state’s public health department has until May 1 to draft regulations covering the law’s provisions, including who gets licensed to grow and sell the drug.
Until then, caregivers and patients may, under the law’s “hardship cultivation” section, begin growing their own marijuana, provided they have written permission from a doctor. Hardship includes limited access to a treatment center due to limited finances, physical incapacity, or living too far away from such a center.
With no such centers currently open, or likely to be for months, a doctor’s letter “shall constitute a limited cultivation registration,” the law states.
For those legally cleared to grow marijuana, cultivation and storage is restricted to an enclosed, locked facility. According to Matt Simon, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., a prolegalization lobbying organization, roughly 1 million patients in 14 states are already cultivating their own marijuana legally.
Once Maine and Rhode Island passed some form of legalization, Napoli figured there were enough fledgling growers in the area to start classes.
These classes include instruction in how to take clippings to clone healthier, more productive plants; how to grow using different methods, organic or hydroponic; and the differences between growing indoors and out. An indoor setup, he told attendees, ideally has two rooms or growing areas, one for starting plants, the other to nurture them to harvest stage.
Depending on what kind of growing lights are used, the total cost of a system is about $1,000, said Napoli, although a basic set-up for starting plants can cost around $200. After that initial investment, and assuming next-generation plants are cloned and not grown from new seed, ongoing costs are minimal, he said.Continued...