We’ve all done it, even tangentially. Whether in the form of taking a bong rip, unfortunately inhaling at your friend’s sister’s quince, or eating what you swear was just a weird-tasting brownie, we’ve all had experiences with marijuana. It’s become legal(ish) due to Prop 64 which has helped reform aspects of marijuana prohibition, but prices have gone up since regulation.
Keenan Chao (who prefers you just call him Keenan) is a budding entrepreneur looking to lower costs for cannabis users within the Santa Monica / Los Angeles areas with his DIY marijuana plant-growing business, Plant Buddies.
Keenan, 38, is an east coast transplant that moved to Santa Monica in 2009 as it’s “like nowhere else on earth.” He studied finance in college which indirectly led the eventual-entrepreneur to the cannabis industry.
“I absolutely wanted to save money,” Keenan says with a laugh during a phone call with the Daily Press. “I did not get into this as a growing-enthusiast by any means. Basically, I wanted to save a lot of money.”
Money can easily be blown as a frequent marijuana user. Keenan estimates that with his mild marijuana usage, he was spending around $200 a month at his local dispensary. Factor in occasionally broken smoking methods and that price gets even higher.
Frustrated with spending his hard-earned money (Keenan works as a tutor in the Santa Monica/Palisades area and helps students with SAT/ACT and college essay preparation) on something he uses for reasons both medical and leisure (“I see it more as a means for me to process the world around me rather than an escape”), he attempted to further learn about self-growing and cannabis culture — and, you know, save himself a few bucks.
Keenan studied the do’s and don’ts of Prop 64 and with the help of a friend from Northern California, took baby steps towards what his business would eventually become.
The two tinkered with the most “economic alternatives” of grow-kits (a DIY marijuana grow kit with an LED light, tent, inline fan, and humidity monitors, to name just a few components) going through months of testing to find the “Goldilocks” of kits.
Then, they attempted growing their own supply of marijuana plants. The duo killed nearly 80% of the plants they initially tried to self-grow, but after “a whole lot of trial and error,” the duo eventually started seeing results.
“I don’t have kids or pets, but man, I’ll never forget seeing my first harvest,” Keenan jestfully says. “Drying it up and using it, makes you appreciate what goes into growing, you look at it differently.” In February 2017, Plant Buddies was born.
Kits start off at $599 with delivery, installation, and check-ups included. A steep price for some, but eventually, you’ll reap the rewards, according to Keenan. “I’ve saved around $3,000, easily,” he says. “Customers have told me they’ve saved anywhere from $150-$500 a month.”
Wanting to gain outreach and build a bigger community to educate others about self-growing and Plant Buddies, Keenan attended numerous cannabis-related events. However, he found himself not relating much to the culture, jokingly adding, “I thought I’d need to wear a tie-dye Grateful Dead shirt and grow a beard to start my business.” Thus, a side venture of sorts was born: Westside Growers.
Westside Growers is an educational marijuana group that meets monthly in the Santa Monica Public Library. There, people from 20-60 years old, from students to seniors to veterans, meet with Keenan to learn things pertaining to marijuana such as laws, more about self-grow equipment, and where to find more resources. “I remember how daunting my first experiences were,” he says. “I’m here to help.”
Johny Yepez, an office manager for a hospitality public relations agency in the LA area, lives in Lawndale and came across Plant Buddies and Westside Growers via meetup.com. Yepez sought the group as he, too, was upset with the amount of money he was spending on his marijuana habit. Although Plant Buddies has an initial steep price Yepez says he’s already saved more money in the long run.
“Why should I be paying $80 for a quarter of weed when this kit can consistently give me more than enough weed to satisfy my needs? It just made sense to me.”
Yepez says both groups, especially Keenan’s personal business touch, has been invaluable. “[Keenan] comes and installs it himself, which is amazing,” Yepez says. “All you gotta do is set up the light, put on a timer, put in the plant, and that’s it.”
Although still small, and mom-and-pop in their operation scale, Keenan has hope that Plant Buddies and Westside Growers can become something more. However, his number one priority will always be helping others wanting to learn about marijuana and growing.
“I take pride in everything we do,” he says. “Installation, follow up, whatever, we’re very much a part of you and want to make sure you’re successful, even if it’s not our kit. I know how happy this medicine can make you, especially once you become self-sustaining.”