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Pot Shots: Cannabis Shops Can Be Scarce, But Growing Weed Is Easier Than Ever

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HOME GROWN:  A new online course by an Oakland-based professor is for people who want to learn the basics of marijuana growing. Enthusiasts say it’s just the start. Photo by Bondgrunge via Shutterstock

HOME GROWN: A new online course by an Oakland-based professor is for people who want to learn the basics of marijuana growing. Enthusiasts say it’s just the start. Photo by Bondgrunge via Shutterstock

Cannabis may be legal statewide, but people across vast swaths of California still have no opportunity to buy weed, in part because many local governments refuse to license pot shops. 

Those people do have options, of course. One is to have it delivered, if that’s available. Another is to grow their own. That is where an Oakland horticulture professor has stepped into the fold to expand access to the plant, which can be used medicinally, or for fun and relaxation in places where it’s legal. In the Golden State, anyone over the age of 21 is allowed to grow cannabis, but restrictions on how much—six plants is the maximum—and where are still narrow. 

But beyond those restrictions, it’s not all that hard to grow weed, even if drying and curing the plant for consumption can be something of a challenge. It’s still a skill, and one that gets more complex if the grower wants to breed for particular traits. Online resources vary in quality but there are plenty of how-to books on the topic, including by the Bay Area’s own Ed Rosenthal, perhaps the best-known guru of cannabis cultivation. But books can’t offer tailored advice. 

Matthew Witemyre, an instructor in the horticulture department at Oakland’s Merritt College, on the other hand, can wax poetic about the trials of cannabis cultivation. Later this month, he’ll launch a two-part, 12-hour course through Merritt College in Oakland to do just that. 

The course, a $120 class called “Cultivating Cannabis for the Home Gardener,” starts March 27 and the second lesson is April 3—both Saturdays. The instruction, of course, will be offered online. Witemyre says future courses will take place on campus post-pandemic. 

As for who should take the class, it could be an opening for people who “want to get their feet wet in the industry,” or just those who like gardening, Witemyre says. 

His is not the first course on cannabis growing as lawmakers increasingly—albeit slowly—legalize or decriminalize the plant across the country. Oaksterdam University, a cannabis college in Oakland, offer horticulture cases, but those are meant as professional training and are thus much pricier. Few if any other colleges are offering courses for home pot gardeners, but Witemyre hopes other institutions will follow suit. 

Such courses obviate the need to learn the basics from possibly dicey online sources.

“Some videos online are outstanding,” Witemyre says. But others are either filled with bad advice, or are outright dangerous by, for example, recommending hazardous pesticides.  

Professional weed growers spend a lot of time, money, and effort on maximizing yields, but the average person doesn’t need to do that, Witemyre says. Plus, one can save a lot of money by not paying high prices at dispensaries and instead growing at home, he adds. 

“You can grow a pound of cannabis in your house for the price of the seeds,” Witemyre says. 

The upcoming course will include two guest speakers. The first, Amanda Reiman, a longtime presence on the Northern California cannabis scene and the vice president of the Flow Cannabis Co., will talk about the therapeutic benefits of “growing your own medicine,” she says. 

She expects that more education institutions will take on the topic of casual or beginning cannabis growing as the industry is demystified. She feels so strongly about it that Reiman will soon release a home course, with materials and video presentations, through her business, Personal Plants.  

Johanna Silver, author of the well-regarded book Growing Weed In the Garden, will be the course’s second speaker. Silver came to pot via her lifelong gardening practice and doesn’t use it much, but loves growing it. “It’s a great first plant to start gardening with,” she says. “It’s really no harder than growing tomatoes.” 

Information about the Merritt College course is available at landhortnursery.org. 

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