THE SEEDS for weGrow were planted in early 2009, when Dhar Mann received a visit at his property-management firm from a tenant whose office had just been burglarized. Mann was about to call the cops when the tenant confessed that he wasn't actually a caterer, as he'd claimed on his lease. He was a medical cannabis grower, and he'd been using his space to cultivate six dozen plants."Weedmart: Marijuana Superstores. IPOs. Reality TV."
The notion of being a landlord for pot growers intrigued Mann, the scion of Oakland's largest taxicab company, who'd founded a mortgage refinancing mill and a luxury-car rental company before he'd turned 25. He paid $500 to enroll in courses at Oaksterdam University, started in 2007 by longtime legalization advocate Richard Lee to provide technical and legal training to would-be growers. Looking at the old-school potheads studying at "America's first cannabis college," Mann realized he could fill a niche. "Everybody I was meeting was a little bit older, more a part of the hippie generation," he recalls. "I was like, 'I bet there's so much room for innovation and new ideas.'"
His first enterprise was igrow420.com, a kind of Facebook for potheads that never took off. Undeterred, he rented a giant warehouse (from his dad) and prepared to become a grower. When he walked into a hydroponics store in Berkeley and asked how to start a pot farm, the salesman kicked him out. A federal ban on selling pot paraphernalia and comedian Tommy Chong's 2003 imprisonment for selling bongs have scared most hydro shops into avoiding any mention of marijuana.
That's when Mann switched gears again: He'd create "the first honest hydro store," one that didn't perpetuate the charade that its customers are spending thousands of dollars growing amazing tomatoes. When the PR shop that was managing weGrow's grand opening in January 2010 handed him a press release that read "Urban gardening megastore opens by airport," Mann fired the firm and rewrote the release himself: "Marijuana Superstore Opens in East Oakland."