Malcolm Joshua Weitz can still remember his first sensory memory of cannabis. It took place when he was only 6 years old, in the early ’90s, during the AIDS epidemic when Weitz’s uncle brought his nephew along on a visit to see an ailing friend.
“I remember walking into his room in Twin Peaks,” Weitz recalls. “His friend was dying from AIDS and I smelled cannabis for the first time. My uncle shared a pipe with him and he told me that it was this dude’s medicine. That was my first introduction to weed and the idea that cannabis is, first and foremost, a medicine. As a result, all the stuff I’d hear in school about ‘just saying no’ to drugs never really landed, because, in my mind, I could see through the curtain.”
Weitz later began to sell cannabis himself.
First it was just locally within the Bay Area, but eventually his operation grew to encompass several states before ultimately expanding into monthly trips across the country to New York. Riding shotgun for many of these voyages was Weitz’s father, a dentist by trade who saw the value in his son’s dream of getting above board and opening a legal dispensary.
Unfortunately, the law intervened before Weitz could make a clean break. After he was arrested in Texas in 2014, Weitz was caught again, this time in New York City, only five months later. As a result of his prior offense, his bail was set at $500,000. But Weitz’s father carried on, determined to see his son earn the funds necessary to get in on the ground floor of a legal California market both knew was just around the corner.
“During that time,” Weitz says, “my dad, who was unstoppable, picked up the mantle. Since he’d worked in the Mission District for so long, he spoke fluent Spanish, and all of my connections out there spoke Spanish. In that culture, they’re very used to generational hustles, so they weren’t freaked out by the fact that I had to go to jail at Rikers Island for a year.”
Sadly, it wasn’t long before Weitz’s father also was arrested — named by an associate in a different bust — which resulted in both father and son being incarcerated at Rikers together. It was only then that Weitz learned his dad was suffering from a serious heart condition, which led authorities to transfer him to the nearby Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward instead.
The situation seemed quite dire. That’s where Weitz’s sister, Nina Parks, enters the story.
Known today as a founder of Supernova Women and for her crucial role in shaping San Francisco’s equity cannabis laws, it was Parks who Weitz turned to when he was released from Rikers in 2016 with seemingly no hope of opening a legal cannabis dispensary. Then Prop. 64 passed in California, and the opportunity Weitz had been waiting for was finally at hand.
“I’m blessed,” he says, “because right when I got out, there was just a groundswell of support and it was amazing to see. Thanks to my sister, Nina Parks, that moment led to doors literally being swung wide open on the second floor of City Hall in supervisors’ offices, where we came up with the criteria for equity, Article 16, which is still the standard in San Francisco to this day.”
“We really did something groundbreaking,” Weitz continued. “I would not be here speaking to you without the opportunity that the San Francisco equity cannabis law afforded me. That law helped me to get my foot in the door. Otherwise, I would have been finished. I’m a two-time cannabis felon and somebody who was a recidivist and who violated his probation. In the eyes of society, I would have been done for.”
Instead, Weitz is now just weeks away from at last unveiling the dispensary he’s always dreamed of running. Located in SoMa at 985 Folsom, Mirage Medicinal is slated to open its doors in November, at which point Weitz will become the first person to open an equity-owned consumption lounge in San Francisco.
While his father tragically did not live to see his son achieve this monumental moment, the name of the business will serve as a permanent reminder of the times Weitz and his dad spent traversing the country and sharing each other’s company.
“It was back in 2013 when I first formed the idea of Mirage Medicinal,” Weitz explained. “My dad and I were on the road, coming out of Flagstaff and into New Mexico, and I could see the sunrise. … There were these mirages on the road ahead of us and I thought about how everybody sees something different in a mirage, how you can project all of your hopes and dreams into what’s literally ahead of you. I decided right then that that was what I wanted to call my cannabis company. I wanted people to buy cannabis and to be able to see a vision of what they want their life to look like and for that to bring them joy and happiness.”
Zack Ruskin covers cannabis for SF Weekly. Twitter @zackruskin