MOTHER JONES: Two years ago, Mann says, he had never seen a pot plant. Today, he envisions weGrow becoming the “Wal-Mart of Weed,” a vertically integrated chain of big-box stores perfectly positioned to cash in on California’s booming marijuana industry as it moves from the shadows to the mainstream. In this “green rush” for semi-legal weed, Mann and his partner Derek Peterson, a 36-year-old investment banker, seek to be the modern equivalents of Levi Strauss and Samuel Brannan—the Gold Rush entrepreneurs who made a killing not from mining, but from selling pans, pickaxes, and victuals to the forty-niners.
From risky business plans to IPO dreams, the marijuana market resembles the internet bubble’s early days. Where the first tech millionaires had Wired, the new “ganjapreneurs” have Rosebud, a glossy with ads for $230,000 Bentleys.
“Derek and I have really thought about how we can capture the entire market segment,” Mann says. Since it opened a year ago in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse near the Oakland International Airport, weGrow has aggressively tried to cover as many angles as possible: It trains aspiring medical marijuana growers at its University of Cannabis (the “Princeton of Pot”); manufactures its own brand of indoor growing gear (GrowOp); dispatches its hydroponics experts on house calls; and keeps a doctor onsite to write medical marijuana recommendations. Mann and Peterson say they’ve signed contracts to open 75 franchise stores in California, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, and Illinois, and they’re talking up an IPO later this year. MORE