Saturday, February 26, 2011

Calif. emporium is a medical-pot superstore

SACRAMENTO - The Walmart of weed has arrived here.

At least that's the moniker embraced by weGrow, a cavernous hydroponics store enthusiastically marketing itself as a retail outlet for people cultivating marijuana for personal medicinal use.

The 10,000-square-foot weGrow store, which opens today, is the first national franchise for a company that bills itself as a supply-and-training destination for legal-pot growers.


The enterprise started in Oakland last year as a warehouse store called iGrow and didn't sell any marijuana.

Yet the gardening emporium attracted national attention for its unbridled embrace of the marijuana culture. It featured an on-site doctor offering medical-pot recommendations and sales staff eagerly pitching grow lights and nutrients while teaching people how to raise bountiful cannabis buds.

The Oakland location is being reorganized as a non-retail distribution hub for a network of retail hydroponics outlets. The Sacramento store, billed as "the first honest hydro store," is to be followed by weGrow stores in Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey and Oregon in coming months.

"I just thought it was a statement to have something close to the state Capitol," said Dhar Mann, who founded the original iGrow in January 2010. "It's a statement of how progressive the industry has become. We're all about coming out of the shadows."

With California, 14 other states and the District of Columbia legalizing marijuana for medical use, the hydroponics industry is exploding. But, unlike weGrow, most hydroponics outlets avoid any mention of marijuana, billing themselves only as generic suppliers for people growing anything from peppers to rosemary.

Hydroponics stores traditionally are leery of any mention of marijuana because pot cultivation remains illegal under federal law.

The M-word is also avoided by some growing-equipment and nutrient suppliers that either operate in states where medical marijuana is illegal or don't want to offend organic farmers or other customers growing non-medicinal products.

"We're very strict. We don't sell equipment for the purpose of growing marijuana," said Chris Corsello, manager of J Street HydroGarden in midtown Sacramento. He said if anyone asks for tips on growing pot, "We say, 'Sorry, we can't tell you anything.' "

Michael Garcia, operator of the Sacramento weGrow franchise, said employees will talk about marijuana once customers show proof of a physician's recommendation for medical use. "If you do not have a script, we're not willing to discuss cannabis with you," he said.

For those who do, weGrow will offer on-site classes in marijuana cultivation. It also promotes its online "University of Cannabis."

Today, the store will celebrate its place in the medicinal-pot industry with a noon-to-4 p.m. expo featuring medical-marijuana suppliers and support businesses.

"We want to bring awareness to this community," Garcia said. "It's already there. We're just bringing it to the forefront."

by Peter Hecht McClatchy Newspapers Feb. 26, 2011 12:00 AM




Calif. emporium is a medical-pot superstore

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