Call it kismet.
Naomi Aragon of Normal Heights was at a coffee shop a few months ago wondering how she could learn to cultivate marijuana when she noticed a business card on the wall that promised to make her life easy. A San Diego startup called Green Carpet Growing was offering to visit people’s homes and teach them to grow cannabis, a finicky plant that can be ruined with the tiniest of mistakes.
“This is just what I was looking for,” Aragon said Tuesday as Green Carpet’s cultivation expert Grace Olivia Hicks guided her in growing cannabis in a small space between the living room and kitchen.
The company, started in September, grew out of the passage of Proposition 64, the 2016 California ballot measure that made it legal to possess and grow a certain amount of marijuana. Beginning Jan. 1, consumers also will be able to buy recreational cannabis in licensed stores, including roughly a dozen in San Diego.
Green Carpet founder Marc Emmelmann, 36, and Hicks, 27, have been recruiting clients through the $75 workshops they hold in their apartment on Banker’s Hill.
The company uses a sliding fee scale for its customers: $150 an hour to consult private citizens, $300 for commercial interests. They’ll also guide customers through the entire 15-week growth cycle for fees ranging from $3,000 to $8,000, figures that depend on how involved Green Carpet gets in the process.
Emmelmann and Hicks paused a couple of times over the past week to discuss their new company with the Union-Tribune.
Q: Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996. Why has it taken so long for a company like yours to spring up locally? Did you sense that the public would be more open to it because voters approved recreational cannabis last year?
Hicks: Cannabis used to be taboo. Now it’s a booming industry. It’s come out of the closet. The people of California said, ‘We want this!” They voted for it. It’s legal.
Q: There’s still a social stigma attached to marijuana. Does that pose a problem when it comes to starting a company like yours?
Emmelmann: Cannabis is going to become more like alcohol. It’s going to be culturally acceptable. It won’t matter if you bring a bottle of wine or some of your personal home-grown cannabis to a party or dinner. People will accept it.
People have been pro-cannabis for years. The cannabis laws are antiquated. They know that cannabis is not a hard drug that should be classified with heroin or meth.
Hicks: I have a more normalized attitude toward marijuana. My parents used cannabis. And I spent eight years working in the cannabis industry in Colorado, which has some strict laws. You can’t smoke it in a car, or out in the open, or in public areas. But it was amazing to see how quickly people in Colorado have adapted. Now, there are cannabis-friendly hotels, cannabis-friendly tour services …
Emmelmann: Cannabis-friendly chefs, cannabis-friendly bed-and-breakfast places. I think you’ll eventually see the same kinds of things spring up in San Diego. There will be a boom in tourism. We’ll attract a lot of people who can’t do this in other states.
Q: And yet you don’t have the word cannabis in your company’s title. Did you consider any provocative names, like “Weed Whisperers” or “The Weed Doctors”? Something that would stand out?
Emmelmann: No. We think it’s very important that we come across as professionals. There are a lot of low-quality cannabis services and brands that cater to pot heads and the stoner community. We’re targeting professionals — people with careers, families, and children. Most of the marijuana marketing you see in San Diego doesn’t focus on them at all.
Hicks: We’re also teaching a skill set — how to grow marijuana, which takes 15 weeks to cultivate. We give people a comprehensive education that is fulfilling.
Q: How do you develop new customers?
Emmelmann: We invite people into our home, literally. We hold cultivation workshops and talk about some of the basics of growing marijuana. And we listen to people to find out why they want to do this. Usually, it’s medicine-related. A lot of these people are growing cannabis for themselves or friends or family members because they’re dealing with serious things like cancer and depression. They feel comfortable coming to our home to talk about it. We come up with a plan help them in their own home.
Q: Why would people bother to grow plants at home when they can easily buy cannabis at a medical marijuana dispensary, or at one of the stores that will begin selling recreational weed in January?
Hicks: You can get high-quality marijuana at a dispensary, but it is always expensive. There are start-up costs if you cultivate your own cannabis at home. You’ve got to pay for the equipment, and learn how to use it. But you save a lot of money over time by learning how to grow, and you ensure that the growing is done right — that the plant doesn’t have contaminants that shouldn’t be there.
Emmelmann: If you give a man a nug (of marijuana) he’ll medicate once. If you teach him to grow a nug, he can medicate forever.
Q: That’s a variation of a religious saying. Do you think people would be offended by that?
Emmelmann: I went to bible college, and it doesn’t bother me. I love that phrase.
Should you not grow your own vegetables? It makes a lot of sense. And doing it yourself brings the pride of creation. Vegetables or cannabis -- it feels great to grow in soil and get your hands dirty.
Q: How hard is it to cultivate quality marijuana?
Hicks: It’s very challenging to do it right. There are so many mistakes you can make, like not protecting the plant from a bug infestation. An infestation can ruin your entire crop in just a week. You really have to pay attention because it takes 15 weeks to grow marijuana.
If you don’t feed the plant just right, you’ll have problems. If you don’t maintain the right humidity, you’ll have problems. If the temperature of the room is off even a little, you can have problems.
Growing marijuana is true agriculture.
Q: Where do people grow marijuana in their homes?
Hicks: Everywhere — in the garage, the basement, closets, bedrooms, laundry rooms. A lot of people have tried growing it outside and failed miserably because pests attack the plants.
Q: As you’ve spread word about your service, have you drawn attention from the police, who might think that you’re just trying to help with a large commercial growing operation?
Emmelmann: No. We follow the law. And we’re very strong supporters of the San Diego Police Department. This is not an issue.
Q: The state says that California produces far more cannabis than can be consumed in the state. Do we really need to teach more people to grow it?
Hicks: Part of that surplus is exported. It doesn’t make its way to the people we serve — the middle-aged professional who wants to learn how to garden. Our customers don’t have a connection with the sort of growers you would find in Humboldt County.
We also live in a city — San Diego — where there is a growing appreciation of urban farming, of doing things for yourself.
Q: Would you have been concerned more about the police if you’d created this company before Proposition 64 passed?
Emmelmann: I want to say no, but the reality is yes. There’s been a burden lifted off my shoulders with the passage of recreational marijuana. The law gave me a green light to do this.
Q: Can you describe what your business will be like a year from now?
Emmelmann: We will have several more employees. Online training classes will be available. We’ll be offering full-day workshops, and we have our eyes on the Los Angeles and Orange County markets. It’s just a matter of time before we do it. The universe is in the right place for this to happen.