Virgil Grant with a bag of his California Cannabis. Photograph: Noah Smith for the Guardian
In 2016, through force of personality and networking, he co-founded the
California Minority Alliance, a non-profit promoting inclusion in the cannabis industry, and the Southern California Coalition, a not-for-profit which imposed some order and cohesion on the industrys unruly stakeholders, from cultivators to retailers.
He became a regular visitor to LA city hall and the state capitol in Sacramento, buttonholing city councillors, state lawmakers, police, non-profits and regulators to help craft an enforcement scheme for medical and recreational pot.
The system put in place allows convicted felons to be part of the industry a sensible policy to let them work and pay taxes in a sector they helped create, said Grant.
The father of five has rebooted his brand, California Cannabis; launched a
website; found a new supplier; and opened three dispensaries for medical pot to form the nucleus of an envisaged retail chain for recreational users, including tourists, once he gets licenses.
I lost six years but Im catching up. Perception is everything. If people see say 10 shops theyll think it must be a trusted brand, like McDonalds. Im aiming for high-end. Quality product and packaging, said Grant.
He spoke from one of his Compton stores surrounded by wares stamped with his slogan: Only the best grows in the west. In an adjacent room six workers sifted through cannabis heaped in 55-gallon containers, trimming it into 1lb sacks which Grant sells to other dispensaries.
Grant brushed off concerns that the Trump administration will
crack down on an industry which is now fully legal in California, Colorado and six other states. He does, however, worry that federal threats will continue to deter banks from working with the industry, creating hassle and expense from handling lots of cash.
Above all he worries that African Americans and Latinos, having suffered disproportionately from pots criminalisation, will lose again if corporate America dominates the newly legalised market.
Hopefully we as people of colour will take our rightful position in this industry. Ill do my part, hiring and mentoring. I require two things of my workers: dont steal, be on time.
Apart from the trimmers and sales clerks Grants company is still largely a one-man operation he does almost everything. Once the money starts coming in Ill hire a marketing team.
Grant still runs track, and has high hopes for his return to the business world. I lost six years but Im catching up. Photograph: Noah Smith for the Guardian
Eaze, in contrast, has more than 80 employees, 300,000 users, a slick website, a PR firm and $52m in funding. We look forward to using our data, technology and platform to continue to serve our mission of providing safe, secure access to marijuana products at the lowest prices with the utmost convenience, CEO Jim Patterson said late last year.
When social media noted the absence of black faces in the companys staff photo Patterson issued a statement professing commitment to diversity and social equity: Were actively working to redress the disproportionately negative effects of marijuana prohibition on communities of color, evident not only in our hiring processes, but internal organization and community partnerships.
Time will tell whether Grant achieves his dream of wealth and early retirement to a beach house where he will eat salmon.
It wont be for lack of determination. During the interview at the dispensary where employees trimmed cannabis Grants eyes watered and he coughed. Yeah, he smiled, wiping away tears. Three decades doing this and Im still allergic.