IGrow: Walmart of weed opens in Oakland
Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Call it the Walmart of weed.
In a 15,000-square-foot warehouse just down the road from the Oakland Airport, an entrepreneur is opening a one-stop shop for medicinal marijuana cultivation that's believed to be the largest in the state.
Don't know the first thing about growing pot? The folks at iGrow have a doctor on site to get you a cannabis card and sell you all the necessary equipment for indoor, hydroponic cultivation - from pumps, nutrients and tubing to lights and fans.
Don't know how to set it up? For a fee, on-site technicians will show you how to build it in your home and even maintain it weekly.
"A lot of people don't know much about growing pot," said Dhar Mann, 25, the owner, who stood in front of an array of Ikea-like displays, showing different rooms of cannabis cultivation systems. "Since there are no full-service resources like us, they take risks, like electrical fires."
This is hardly a fringe business. When iGrow opens today, at least three City Council members will attend. So will most of the leaders of the cannabis industry in Oakland, a city long at the vanguard of medicinal marijuana.
Today's opening also comes on a key day for proponents of a statewide ballot measure to allow recreational marijuana. They plan to turn in about twice as many signatures as needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
The supporters of that measure are being led by Richard Lee, owner of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland-based business that trains people for work in the cannabis industry.
The medicinal marijuana world is still unsettled. Cities from Los Angeles to Berkeley are grappling with how to permit and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.
Oakland, where voters last summer agreed to have the city to tax and regulate "cannabis businesses," has allowed only four licensed dispensaries.
Though iGrow provides all the supplies and know-how for cannabis cultivation, they don't sell the seedlings - only dispensaries can. And even some of the vendors tread a delicate line.
Gabriel Goodhart, the owner of Easy Feed Systems based in West Oakland, was setting up one of the system displays at iGrow on Wednesday. His company has an explicit policy of not setting up any system where marijuana is visible when they show up - or even mentioning the word "marijuana."
"Liability is shifting," said Goodhart, a libertarian who is a registered Republican. "A small business like ours can't take the risk."
But, he believes, the issue is a moral one.
"It's not fair to medical patients to put them in a gray area where they have to be involved in criminal activity to stay healthy," he said. "That's like not having health insurance."
The cost of creating your own cultivation system or relying solely on a dispensary is vast.
At a dispensary, a patient might spend $120 a week for a quarter-ounce of marijuana.
However, it might cost $1,000 to set up an eight-plant system, said Zeta Ceti, one of iGrow's "indoor growing technicians." But in the course of a year, they might only use half of their harvest and be able to sell the remaining 3 pounds for $12,000 to a dispensary.