MARBLEHEAD — When Evan Heenehan unzipped the 6-foot-tall nylon "grow tent," the smell of marijuana quickly filled the basement of Barry Levine's house on a quiet street.
Under a 300-watt light stood six potted cannabis plants, enough to produce 10 ounces of marijuana.
"For an old hippie like me," said Levine, who was wearing an 'I saw Jerry' (as in Garcia) T-shirt, "this is a fantasy."
Levine, a 66-year-old lawyer, is one of about a dozen customers of Home Grow Community, a business started by Heenehan that helps people grow marijuana in their own home. For $3,000 a year, Heenehan will set up a home-grow operation and make regular visits to oversee the process of growing, harvesting, drying and curing.
"I come once a week, just like a landscaper," he said.
Heenehan, a 37-year-old Wenham resident, said he was living in his van and didn't have a job when he decided to start what he calls his "in-home cannabis cultivation service." He had spent 16 years growing grass of another kind, in the golf course management field, including at Ipswich Country Club and Turner Hill Golf Club in Ipswich, and has a background in plant biology and soil science.
Massachusetts voters legalized recreation marijuana in 2016. The law allows people 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home, and to grow up to 12 plants in their home if there is more than one person over 21 living there.
Heenehan, who said he vapes marijuana, began experimenting growing pot in his father's basement. Through online research and trial and error, he developed a system and was ready to turn it into a business.
Heenehan begins by setting up a grow tent in a customer's home. Levine's is in his basement, but one customer has the tent in a bedroom, and Heenehan has one of his own in his kitchen. "They're pretty unobtrusive," he said.
The temperature in the tent, which Heenehan said uses about the same electricity as a refrigerator, is maintained at about 75 degrees. He uses organic fertilizers and has devised a system where the customer, using a large syringe, waters the plants twice a week.
Heenehan shows up once a week to thin out the leaves and monitor the plants' progress. He manipulates the branches to force them to grow at angles that improve their growth and allow them to fit in the space. He said he is having an app developed that will let him monitor the growth from his phone.
The growing process takes about 10 weeks. The buds are cut and hung upside down in the grow tent for a week to 10 days to dry, then placed in jars to cure for three to four weeks. Heenehan will then help customers process their cannabis into whatever form they like, including cannabutter that can be used to make baked goods such as cookies and muffins.
Peter Bernard of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council said he knows of only one other business like Heenehan's, based in Carver.
Heenehan said one of his goals is to "take back" the cannabis-growing business from the larger operators who have dominated the industry since legalization.
"Cannabis has always been a community-focused thing," he said. "It's kind of sad to see it turned into a sterile, corporate thing. I really wanted to try and shake things up and come up with a model that's a little more socially responsible."
Levine said the $3,000 cost for Heenehan's services has been well worth it for him and his wife. The price includes two 10-week grow cycles for a total of 20 ounces. Levine, who also has a card for medical marijuana to treat chronic gastritis, said the cost ends up being about half the price of buying marijuana at a dispensary.
"I've been smoking pot since the 1970s," he said. "They've finally come into the 21st century."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.