As an old-school seed nerd, Nick Handler makes it his business to know exactly how to help almost anybody achieve the “perfect high.”

Working under the name Oni Noodles, the 38-year-old Portland resident has taught himself how to breed just the right marijuana strain for every growing situation, end product and business need. Some people want strains that will grow to a certain size, strains that make great hash or strains that produce huge yields. As the home grow scene takes off, some want a plant that will look or smell a certain way, with broad leaves or a heady peach aroma, for example.

Over 25 years, Handler – an internationally known breeder of marijuana strains – has built up a collection that can satisfy all those needs, but his favorite kind of customer is the one looking for a specific kind of high.

Attendees take a look at a cannabis products on display by Maine’s Honest Herb Co., one of the vendors at the fourth annual Maine Cannabis Convention at the Portland Sports Complex on Saturday.

“I’m all about the science, but with drug motivations,” Handler said Saturday. “I am very motivated by getting high. By figuring out how to get you high. Not just any high, but the perfect high. I’m not Dr. Reefer. I’m not here to sell you tinctures to cure what ails you. I am here to get you high in a legal, responsible and deliberate way with cannabis that I have spent years and years perfecting.”

Handler was one of a dozen seed vendors sprinkled among almost 200 vendors at the fourth annual Maine Cannabis Convention in Portland on Saturday. In the past, show attendees were lucky to find one or two booths selling seeds at the event, but the number of people who want to grow their own marijuana at home has been going up as Maine struggles to develop a commercial market for recreational marijuana two years after legalization.

This year, both exhibitors and showgoers seemed more comfortable with the legality of buying seeds, said event organizer Marc Shepard. While federal authorities still consider any kind of marijuana, even seeds, to be a controlled substance, Maine state regulators consider cannabis seeds to be like hops seeds, which can be sold without regulation even though they grow into beer, which is a regulated substance, he said.

An increase in people selling varieties of grow mediums and small-scale growing equipment – including lights, plant trainers and drying racks – shows how the Maine market is evolving to satisfy the surge of interest in home grow. These businesses are serving home growers as well as medical marijuana caregivers looking for a way to make their operations more efficient and their products more competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

In the seed market, for example, cultivators need to develop their own specific brand of marijuana to set themselves apart from the pack, Handler said.

Almost 200 vendors offered pot products at Saturday’s event.

“Everybody and their mama wants to grow weed right now,” Handler said. “It’s the quick new way to make a buck, right? But you’ve got to give someone a reason to buy your product and not somebody else’s. Everybody’s scrambling to get their own proprietary stock. There is a thriving weed culture here in Maine. They may be wearing Carhartts and dirty jeans, but they’re connoisseurs who know their (expletive). They want to grow the best stuff, too.”

People were taking notes at the grow demonstrations and showing pictures of their home grow setups to expert panelists for feedback. Attendees lined up at one of the booths, where Danny Danko, the senior cultivation editor at High Times, was selling a new book on growing marijuana at home, to get personalized grow tips. Terry Burgess of Saco said he came to the convention in search of nutrient information and samples, but walked out with a bag full of tinctures and salves.

“I love my garden,” Burgess said. “I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty good at it and spend most of the late summer eating from what I grow. Now that I’m retired, I wanted to give this a try. I’ve got some aches and pains that I’d like to get rid of and I don’t want the stuff my doctor is pushing, so I thought I’d give cannabis a go. It’s something to talk about with my buddies, at least.”

Burgess said he was half-joking at the prospect of getting into the marijuana business, but self-medication is what pushed L. Jaye Bell of Searsmont into the industry. An accident five years ago left her with back and ankle injuries that forced her into a wheelchair, with painkillers from her doctor, but she turned to herbal remedies that she could grow at home, and eventually cannabis, to aid in her recovery. She began selling her wares to friends and neighbors.

Various types of cannabis buds are on display at the fourth annual Maine Cannabis Convention at the Portland Sports Complex on Saturday.

Her company, Aurora Botanicals Maine, was doing well, but it was the addition of cannabis to her products in February that made her business go crazy, she said. It’s not that she’s in it for the money – she still says a prayer and burns sage over every single batch – but the same plant that she believes led her to a pain-free life is now allowing her to finally earn a living doing a thing she loves. This will be the first year of her life that she has ever earned more than $25,000, she said.

“I can sell a half-gallon of herbal tincture for $1,500,” Bell said. “I can sell that same half-gallon, which takes me the same amount of time to make, with cannabis in it for $5,000. That is rainbow and unicorns math for me, and my customers tell me that it is making their lives better, too. And I believe them, because it worked for me.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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