Stores across the U.S. are selling high-powered grow lights, liquid fertilizers and everything else one might need to fuel an incredibly popular American pastime--and it's not growing tomatoes. These merchants can't advertise their true mission: providing gear for growing hydroponic marijuana at home. In fact, agreements with manufacturers forbid store employees from counseling customers who openly discuss using the products to grow pot.
Despite this, weGrow is bringing medical marijuana cultivation into the light. And that's what appealed to Phoenix resident Sunny Singh, its first franchisee. Singh, whose family has run Subway franchises and convenience stores, was introduced to the concept by his brother, a friend of weGrow's California-based founder, Dhar Mann.
"At first, I blew it off. I didn't see the market, and I didn't know if the margins were worthwhile," Singh says. But after looking into Arizona's recently passed medical marijuana laws, he saw a niche to service inexperienced growers in a safe, friendly environment. Singh opened his 20,000-square-foot store in June, and he's on track to hit $1 million in sales by the end of his first year in business. We asked him how he's cultivating his franchise.
How is weGrow different from "undercover" hydro stores?
We're the first truly honest hydro store. What's going to make this concept big is the services. The first step in growing cannabis is to be a patient. We have an in-store clinic that gives people evaluations and prescriptions. We offer classes on legalities, how to grow step by step, and we have a team of technicians that comes out and installs the setup for you. Lots of patients want to grow their own, and they end up going through a lot of trial and error. It's not easy to grow. But we come out and manage the plants and do full compliance checks so they can grow safely and correctly.
State laws vary; can this franchise expand nationwide?
I think we are on the cusp of big change. I don't think there's been a bigger push to legalize medical marijuana than there is today. It's currently legal in 16 states, another six have put it on the ballot, and we expect 20 more to approve it in the next five years. I think about this period like it's Prohibition in the 1920s. With weGrow, we're staying a step ahead and establishing a national brand. So when medical marijuana does become legal, when people think of growing marijuana, they'll think of this company.
Policies can change--do you think this business is risky?
The company founder, Dhar, calls this the "green rush." Not everyone found gold during the gold rush, but everyone bought picks and shovels and equipment. And essentially that's what we're selling. I did have a lot of hesitation at first. But my uncles jumped into Subway in the 1980s, and I grew up knowing that if you get in early on something good, you can be a big part of something great.
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.