Talk to any equity cannabis applicant in San Francisco and they’ll tell you a compelling story.
Arguably no one better encapsulates this reality than Malcolm Joshua Weitz, proprietor of a soon-to-be-opened combo retail space and lounge in the SoMa district. When Mirage Medicinal opens its doors in November, it won’t only represent the culmination of an 11-year journey from one side of the law to the other, but the fulfillment of an unlikely dream shared between a weed-dealing son and his straight-edge, dentist father.
By the time Weitz was in eighth grade at Roosevelt Middle School, he was already dabbling in selling what he concedes was “very, very bad cannabis.” When he reached high school, he started growing it too. Weitz was in his mid-20s when California’s Prop. 19, an early effort to legalize recreational cannabis, narrowly failed to pass.
Despite the fact that a recreational market had yet to be codified, Weitz says he could see the writing on the wall and decided to do all he could in the traditional market to raise the funds necessary to establish a business under the auspices of 1996’s Prop. 215. His plan was to ensure he got in on the ground floor of what he correctly predicted would be a massive new industry for the state.
“I saw it as my tech boom,” he says. “I was never into computers, so I felt a little bit left out of the prosperity of that. The Mission District, where I grew up, was rapidly gentrifying, and legal cannabis felt like an opportunity for me to shine.”
Over the next few years, Weitz expanded his enterprise until it encompassed several different states. While business was decent, it was decidedly not great. Not only was Weitz not making enough to pursue his ultimate dream of opening a legal cannabis business, the nature of his profession had left him largely estranged from his family as well.
Then came a fateful day in 2012 when Weitz found himself at the St. Louis airport with a large sum of cash he knew he could not take on the plane. Unsure where else to turn, he called his father — a dentist with an office on 23rd and Mission — who had never so much as taken a sip of alcohol or consumed a cup of coffee in his life.
“I didn’t want to fly with $25K,” Weitz explained, “so I hit my dad up out of the blue. I asked him if could deposit some money in his account and he said ‘OK,’ probably thinking I was talking about $1,000. When I told him it was $25K, I could pretty much hear his jaw drop on the floor.”
Much to Weitz’s surprise, his father agreed to let him deposit the funds. When Weitz got back to San Francisco, the two sat down for a chat where his father, then 57, suggested the two work together until Weitz could make enough to start a legal cannabis company and make a clean break from selling outside of the law.
“Hearing him say that blew my mind,” Weitz said. “The roof of my brain just blew off.”
What followed is a most unlikely father-son bonding experience in which Weitz and his dad made monthly cross-country trips to New York City and back with north of 100 pounds of product to sell for most of 2013 and 2014. During their travels, the two would talk about Weitz’s business plans, with his father offering advice and encouraging his son to think through all the various complications that might crop up.
“Being on the road was extraordinarily stressful,” Weitz explains, “but my dad looked at it as a way to finally get through to his hard-headed son with some life lessons.”
Eventually, a heart condition forced his father to stop making the trips, which is why Weitz was with a trusted confidant when he was pulled over in Lubbock, Texas, in 2014 and found to be transporting 150 pounds of cannabis.
“It was me and my boy, Richie,” Weitz said, “who is Afro-Latino. The officer that pulled us over said the reason we’d been stopped was because, in his words, ‘Y’all don’t look like you belong together.’”
Following a colorful episode at what Weitz terms a “cop chop-shop” where his vehicle was fully stripped down, he placed a call from Carson County Jail to his father, who sprang into action. Eventually, with the incident serving as Weitz’s first offense on an otherwise clean record, he was sentenced to five years’ probation.
But in less than a year, both Weitz and his father would find themselves incarcerated together at Rikers Island.
Check back next week for the second, concluding installment of this story.
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