Everywhere you turn, it’s there. Cannabis and cannabis-related products, such as CBD, seem to have hit the American mainstream.
As of this magazine’s print date, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use or “recreational” cannabis. Another 35 have legalized some form of medical marijuana and/or medical CBD. Only Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota remain on the outside looking in.
Not all states with recreational cannabis programs allow the general public to grow their own. But consumers — especially gardeners who love the challenge of unique new plants — seem eager to give cannabis a try.
If the most recent National Gardening Survey holds true, nearly one-third of your customers would likely grow marijuana at home if it were legal to do so. And when those adventurous gardeners take that step, they’ll want to turn to you.
Whether your IGC embraces the home-grow cannabis market, chances are you’ll field questions from consumers and staff. To help you along, we spoke with three independent garden retailers who are courting cannabis-growing customers. Here are their insights, inspiration and advice.
Scenic Roots Garden Center
East Sandwich, Massachusetts
When the team at scenic roots got together to discuss cannabis last year, the meeting had been coming for a while. Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, and the first sales by licensed cannabis shops started last fall.
Under the new law, adults 21 and older can grow up to six plants for personal use, with a household maximum of 12. Now that home growing was legal, the Cape Cod IGC was deciding how to respond.
Co-owner Donna (Kutil) Ross says the team didn’t take it lightly. Family owned and operated since 1986, Scenic Roots Garden Center is a fixture in their community.
“We had a heavy discussion here with my brother, who is co-owner, and another manager,” she says. “We are in a highly historic town that’s very old money. We were very nervous about offending people. We were concerned as to whether we were going to lose customers over this or not.”
They decided to move ahead. A “cannabis” tab appeared on their website with a single page that covers state law and cannabis basics, including tips related to hardiness, light, water and pests. The page also lists some of the IGC’s cannabis growing supplies, from seed-starting items to soil, fertilizers and pesticides.
Cannabis growing products initially landed with traditional products in the same category, but now a “Cannabis Corner” exists for recreational home growers. “We consolidated some products and made a four-way with seed starting supplies, rooting powder, transitional soils, pots and grow lights, and made it a section in our store,” Ross says.
In the end, the team’s fears were unfounded. “We have not had one complaint,” Ross says. Instead, customers have thanked them and happily admitted the products they’ve been buying weren’t for “tomatoes” after all. “People have been very open and very receptive,” she says. “The amount of people who were actually growing surprised us, like a 70-year-old woman who’s been a customer of ours for 30 years.”
To educate themselves, Scenic Roots shut down for a day so the entire staff could attend a nearby one-day workshop. Ross also grew a few cannabis plants — for education only, not for sale — and posted their progress on social media.
Next year’s plans include a succession of workshops to take new cannabis gardeners from seed to harvest, one step at a time throughout the year.
While the IGC occasionally mentions cannabis in its regular newsletter, an opt-in newsletter focused on cannabis growing will launch soon. It will cover growing tips, how-tos, history and other topics you’d expect in an IGC newsletter, but only for customers who choose to receive it.
Asked about advice for other IGC owners, Ross stresses the importance of organic products — from fertilizers to insect controls — and complete transparency. “I want them to be open with their customers. No one has to scream at the top of their lungs, but just be open and honest,” she says.
“For us, it’s not about huge monetary gains. It’s about the comfort level and educating our customers, because they will come back to you again and again.” She adds, “This is all new to us, but it’s just a new category. You have to treat it like any other category. It’s a growing category, and you’ve got to move with it.”
Fig Earth Supply
Los Angeles, California
California has long been associated with cannabis. In 1996, it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Twenty years later, in 2016, it legalized recreational cannabis. But cannabis wasn’t on Conor Fitzpatrick’s mind when he opened Fig Earth Supply in Los Angeles that year.
As founder and owner of MinifarmBox, a business that produces cedar planters and irrigation kits for home vegetable growers, he wanted to open an education and plant space as an extension of MinifarmBox’s home-growing approach.
You won’t find bedding plants at Fig Earth, but you’ll find vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, growing supplies and a devotion to teaching and education. Fitzpatrick describes it as a “food and medicine” nursery, complete with its own line of curated medicinal herbs.
When California legalized recreational cannabis and allowed adults over 21 to grow up to six plants for personal use, Fitzpatrick decided to add cannabis cultivation to Fig Earth’s 2017 educational schedule. But recreational use wasn’t his focus.
“It’s a very little-known fact that the cannabis plant is a very powerful medicine,” he says. “Since the legalization, I want to get people away from the idea that it’s a recreational drug. It’s a much more complicated and powerful plant than that.”
Fitzpatrick hadn’t received requests for the classes. He simply felt people should know more about cannabis and how to grow it. “We want people to grow their own food and medicine, so we have to walk our talk and help people,” he says.
When the first cannabis classes occurred, the Los Angeles Times ran the story. “It was critical to have that kind of coverage,” Fitzpatrick says. “The L.A. Times did us a huge favor there. We booked up three or four classes just from that one article.” He hasn’t heard a negative comment about them yet.
Fig Earth offers three to four cannabis-related seminars per year, from an intensive cannabis cultivation class for outdoor home growers to informational classes on CBD. Limited to 15 people, the cultivation classes draw people from all age groups and walks of life who pay $95 each.
Highly regarded professional cannabis growers teach the classes and take home half the fees. Demonstration plants are on hand, but not for sale.
The nursery carries a full line of outdoor growing supplies but doesn’t carry indoor growing equipment other than seed starting products and similar items. Cannabis fertilizers and soils enjoy a healthy following among non-cannabis customers, too. One soil mix developed specifically for cannabis sells double any other soil, even though it’s the most expensive soil Fig Earth offers.
For IGC owners considering cannabis-related products or seminars, Fitzpatrick stresses the importance of following your state’s laws and knowing why you’re offering the category.
“You have to have a point of view for why you’re doing it. For us, it was to educate people on how much more this plant is than just a drug,” he says. “If you have that point of view, you don’t have to hide behind anything then. There’s just an openness with the whole thing.”
Boston Gardener’s owner, Jon Napoli, grew up around farming and gardening. His family operates Idylwilde Farms, one of Massachusetts’ largest farm stand/greenhouse businesses, now entering its fourth generation. But for many years, Napoli has focused on a different type of gardening in his urban Boston garden store.
A long-time proponent of cannabis legalization, Napoli founded The Hempest in 1995. Dedicated to hemp-derived products, including high-quality, eco-friendly clothing and body care, the retail business served as a vehicle to educate people and influence public opinion. But he also had a long-held goal of a garden shop for urban gardeners.
That goal was realized in 2009, when Boston Gardener opened its doors. The shop serves all types of gardeners, from urban dwellers growing traditional flowers and edibles to those cultivating cannabis or hemp indoors.
“I started Boston Gardener as a place for gardening enthusiasts to get their indoor or outdoor gardening supplies, but I also wanted to let people talk about cannabis and to educate people on how to grow it properly,” Napoli says. “At that time, you couldn’t talk about cannabis. You had to pretend you were growing tomatoes.”
When Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana in 2012 (recreational legalization came in 2016), Napoli responded. “I put ads in the paper saying I would teach people how to grow their own medicine,” he says. The media picked up the story, heavy press coverage followed and readers discovered where to buy organic gardening and hydroponic growing supplies — and talk freely about cannabis, too.
In the early years, Napoli’s biggest pushback came from product vendors who were worried about being associated with cannabis growing. Vendors now welcome a cannabis connection. Customer response to the melding of categories has been positive from the start.
Inside Boston Gardener, you won’t find cannabis banners flying. Just knowledgeable staff ready to talk gardening with everyone from indoor hydroponic cannabis growers to traditional gardeners looking for houseplants or their spring veggies and herbs.
The garden store offers a full line of traditional growing supplies along with an extensive line of indoor hydroponic growing equipment and supplies. The non-cannabis crowd accounts for some indoor growing, but not much. “Indoor customers are almost exclusively cannabis. The traditional gardeners tend to garden outdoors,” Napoli says.
In addition to home growers, Boston Gardener targets licensed commercial cannabis businesses. Napoli has helped design and equip commercial cannabis cultivation facilities and serves as director of cultivation for a licensed cannabis company. He also offers consulting services to licensed commercial cannabis growers.
With the resistance and stigma associated with cannabis fading rapidly, Napoli doesn’t see any reason for garden centers not to jump in. “You’re just expanding your line of products a little bit,” he says.
“If you have some extra room in your store, I think it’s great to cater toward the cannabis grower. They’re the ones spending the most money. They’re the ones growing the most valuable crop — and they can keep you growing year-round more than the average gardener will.”
Exploring the cannabis category
If you’re considering cannabis-related classes or products, these tips can help you explore your options and decide what’s right for your IGC:
1. Know the laws in your community. Check with your state, county and city officials for the latest on what’s legal in your area. Some recreational states don’t allow cannabis to be grown at home (or in IGCs). Municipalities also have a say in what goes.
2. Stay informed on state and federal legislation. The Interactive Marijuana Legislation Map from GIE Media’s Cannabis Business Times magazine can help you stay in tune with legislative news.
3. Educate yourself and your staff. Scenic Roots recommends the website I Love Growing Marijuana for growing guides and other info. Ross also recommends “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” a book on the history and politics of marijuana and hemp.
4. Talk with your vendors. Many vendors at garden center shows are now showcasing products aimed at the home-grow cannabis market. Quiz your vendors on what they’re seeing across the industry and what they offer in products and education.
5. Visit cannabis and hemp trade shows. Napoli highly recommends attending local cannabis or hemp shows and events, which are now fairly common in larger cities. You’ll meet vendors interested in garden center sales, consumers looking for home growing supplies and a friendly ear.
The author is a freelance writer specializing in the horticulture industry and a frequent contributor to GIE Media publications. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.