Weedmart: Meet the Entrepreneurs with Plans for Marijuana Superstores and Pot-Focused Reality TV
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One Saturday a couple of weeks before the weGrow bash, I caught up with Mann and Peterson at the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo just south of San Francisco. It was 4:20 p.m., and they had procured strawberry-banana-marijuana smoothies from two of the many scantily clad young women sauntering through the hall offering all manner of pot-infused goodies. "I consume the least out of everybody," Mann told me. "Most of my staff has never even seen me smoke." Peterson worried about his smoothie's high THC levels: "They always scare me when they say, 'We've been making them stronger and stronger.'"
The afternoon's big event was a debate between pro- and anti-legalization potheads that quickly went sour, as chants of "You suck!" clashed with cheers and applause. "I'm hiding behind you if a fight breaks out," Peterson told me. "I'm too stoned to throw punches." I pointed out that pot smokers are supposed to be peaceful. "I'm telling you, man, when economics gets involved, it changes everything," he replied. A year from now, he predicted, the pot business "is gonna be as ruthless as Wall Street."
He and Mann headed over to a table selling Doob Tubes, pocket-size airtight joint containers. "Everybody knows Doob Tubes," Peterson said before moving in to see if the Doob Tubes guy would cut him a deal on volume. "I only sell it at one price, and it's at wholesale," Ray C., the inventor and owner, informed him firmly. Peterson asked what the price would be if weGrow ordered 200,000 tubes—a shipment 20 times the size of a typical order. Ray C. laughed. " That would be a much different price."
SIZE DOES MATTER. Mann and Peterson know the real money isn't in being the biggest seller of Doob Tubes. Which is why they still have their eye on the mother lode of California's green rush. Oakland is planning to offer four industrial-scale marijuana farming permits, and the weGrow guys hope that their new cannabis cultivation arm, GROPECH (Grass Roots of Oakland Philanthropic and Economic Coalition for Humanity), can snag one. They envision a 60,000-square-foot, solar-powered warehouse that would hold 30,000 cannabis plants yielding $50 million worth of buds per year. Though Oakland would require the farms to be not-for-profit, "My feeling is that eventually they'll turn that into a for-profit entity down the line," Peterson says. "We could, 20 or 30 years from now, be the Budweiser of marijuana."
Late on a Tuesday night, Mann and a couple of weGrow employees sat in his bachelor pad in downtown Oakland, passing a glass pot pipe. On his widescreen TV, the city council was debating how to assign the grow permits. "It's like watching the Super Bowl for me," Mann said between hits. He perked up when a council member suggested that the farms be required to purchase 80 percent of their equipment locally; that could be huge for weGrow.
"There's so much politics involved," he said after changing out of his suit and into a white hoodie. "It's like a game of chess, man. The thing that you have to keep in mind is that you've got a lot of pieces before you get to the king, right? And any one of those can be a game changer."
After an hour, the council decided the permit question was too complicated and tossed it back to city staff for further review (the council is still debating how to offer the permits without breaking federal law). Mann was angry; he hadn't expected the wheels of government to turn so slowly. Around midnight, he got an email on his iPhone with a link to an article about resistance to weGrow's planned expansion to a suburb south of San Francisco. City officials weren't sure if the store would be legal. "Isn't that insane!" Mann exclaimed. He was losing his appetite for thinking about business. The munchies had kicked in. He headed into the kitchen and stuck a leftover enchilada in the microwave.