Mirage Medicinal’s Vision for Community Enrichment
“Lawyers, politicians, they function off statistics. In order to get laws passed, we need numbers. You never lose sight of the fact that those numbers represent people's ruined lives. And we have the numbers that show black and brown folks are anywhere between two and 10 times more likely than white people to get really harmful things done to them by the law, just for possessing or selling cannabis.”
Malcolm Weitz speaks quickly and decisively, the way kids from the City do. Reflecting on his path to owning and operating Mirage Medicinal – the new cannabis dispensary set to open on Folsom and 6th Streets – Malcolm recognizes that his experience doesn’t mirror that of most American kids, Filipino or otherwise. It’s a story that starts with childhood education around cannabis as a therapeutic solution, and ends with him at City Hall, directly negotiating the terms of San Francisco’s Cannabis Equity Program, signed into law in 2016.
“I grew up in The Mission, always getting dropped off at my Lola’s house. I remember how everyone came there to eat. My uncles would be there, and I would see them smoking with their friends, who looked really sick. I was just a kid so I didn't know that they had AIDS; they just looked very sick to me. And they would tell me, ‘Hey, what we’re smoking is medicine for my friend.’ So even before getting into the contemporary culture, and street culture, that was how I first came to understand weed: as a medicine.”
Not surprisingly, Malcolm proudly points out that Mirage Medicinal strives to center the curative and restorative benefits of the plant, even as the recreational market explodes. It’s a major opportunity for growth and economic development that Malcolm looks to steer toward his community through the Mirage project.
“The equity program in San Francisco is specifically designed to rebalance the scales against the harm that has been inflicted upon communities of color via the war on drugs, specifically cannabis arrests. It identifies and designates equity program applicants to either gain employment in the cannabis industry, or to receive priority for licenses to open up businesses of their own — and that those businesses will receive community benefits, to give them a First Mover's advantage.”
Currently, municipalities can issue a limited number of licenses for cannabis retail, cultivation, and delivery. San Francisco’s equity program works to mitigate inevitable speculation from outside of San Francisco — people who simply want to show up in the City and build a cannabis business. By prioritizing individuals who were harmed by anti-cannabis laws for job placement and business licenses – and linking those entrepreneurs with investors — the people whose lives were pushed off-track by outmoded laws can be made whole again, as they become the central beneficiaries of the industry and marketplace they in fact built. In this way, Malcolm sees the possibility for major socioeconomic strides that elevate communities of color into higher realms of entrepreneurship, ownership, and independence.
“The cannabis industry is really kind of a Tech Explosion type of thing — it’s going to change the world. The world is exploding in terms of the directions this can go in. There is the medicinal direction, there is recreational — it’s going to be a wave of prosperity for people who want to gravitate towards this early on. So people have to start letting go of the stigma; that's the only way this is going to help the entrepreneurs in communities like ours, communities of color, is if the leaders in those communities can facilitate the letting go of the biases around cannabis -- so they can embrace it early and get on top of the wave. Because we already know who's getting on top of this wave, right? Corporations! And the reality is that it’s the communities that could benefit the most who could end up getting left behind the most – all because they carry the same traumas around the very thing that not only could help heal them, but could also help bring economic prosperity to the hood.”
Again, for Malcolm and Mirage, these goals emerge from a genuine place of concern for family and community well-being – itself built on his personal history and experience with how industrialized medicine can complicate existing health issues, rather than solve them.
“You see it so many times in our community. Our people, our elders, continuously have diabetes, arthritis, high blood. But just as often, their treatment plans end up making them more sick! Like my Lola -- her heart medication gave her diabetes. All these Western medications are giving us other health problems, you know what I'm saying? So helping to educate people on the therapeutic and homeopathic aspects of cannabis, especially CBD, is going to be one of the big pieces to Mirage Medicinal — starting with the elders, because that's really whose lives therapeutic cannabis can help optimize the most.”
Being a source of information and healing for a community means taking on additional responsibilities as a business. That’s something Malcolm says he welcomes at Mirage, because he carries a healthy understanding of his work within a much larger cultural context.
“I was persona non grata in my family – I didn't graduate high school, and I was always doing off-kilter shit to make money, and one of those things was being big in the marijuana business. And it was like, I was a bad example to my nieces and nephews, and it was very painful for me to be in this business when it comes to my family. I was very much on the outside for a long time. But it's good, because now it's being more accepted and, at the end of the day, it's going to help them. There's no ‘I told you so.’ God put this plant here; I didn't put this here. I didn't invent this! I am just a messenger.”
Written by Paul Barrera.