Alex de Man was reviewing her notes. She and her business partner, Chip Moore, had come to a meeting of the West Oakland Neighbors to share plans for expanding their cannabis delivery service, 4&20 Blackbirds, into a cannabis culture center.
But before it was their turn, Bob Huff, a manager for a local developer, was speaking about an apartment building currently under construction. He was asked how much the new units would cost.
“It’s too far out to estimate what the market will be like,” he responded. “But I can tell you a recently finished development is at about,” then Huff paused to think.
“350,” Moore whispered without hesitation.
A second later, Huff said, “300 to 350 dollars per square foot.”
Chip smiled and said, “See, that’s how long I’ve been looking for a building.”
It’s been two years since Moore, 4&20’s CEO, began his search for a property that will suit the needs of the operation—and he’s finally a few weeks away from closing the deal.
He, de Man, and the other co-owners of 4&20 plan to convert a 45-year-old building in West Oakland’s industrial district into a place where medicinal cannabis patients and adult-use consumers can buy, consume, and learn about pot in a relaxing and enjoyable environment. A place where cannabis culture can be preserved; where at least half of all employees live in the neighborhood; and where community improvement is the number one goal.
When it was their turn to present to the West Oakland Neighbors, de Man began by saying that 4&20 is women, minority, and immigrant-owned and is dedicated to bringing the community up with them.
After she pitched the project, Moore took the mic. “West Oakland has been the center of cannabis for over 20 years, so really we’re coming home,” he said.
Moore, 43, was born across the bay in the Presidio’s Letterman Army Medical Center. He grew up a military brat, leaving San Francisco as a toddler and bouncing around the country before settling in Ohio and going to college there. During a twelve-week educational trip to Israel when he was nineteen, Moore was exposed to new spices, flavors, and methods of cooking that inspired him to further explore the culinary arts. He now roasts whole animals on a moveable grill in his backyard.
But it was ultimately music that brought Moore back to the Bay Area. In college, he became the front man for a funk band called the Hector Welsh Project. Looking for a new home, the group moved to the Bay in 1999 by which time medical marijuana had been legalized in California.
“I’ve lived a lot of lives,” Moore said. “Been a traveling musician, went to law school for a little bit and didn’t make it through. But cannabis has always been right there, always been a community I could depend on, and a place I always felt comfortable.”
He smoked weed for the first time when he was fifteen years old. It was mid-west “brick” weed, as he called it, so tough you literally had to pull it apart. Now, Moore and his partners test any products sold by 4&20 to ensure they only provide their patients with the highest quality. Between that, meeting with possible investors, and securing the future of the company, the cannabis industry now takes up all of Moore’s time.
4&20 is vying for one of the eight business permits that Oakland is planning to give out by January. Right now, this means securing a property, investors, insurance, and getting it all into a neat application for the city. Neither Moore nor his co-owners qualify for Oakland’s equity permit program. The only time Moore ever lived in Oakland was in the early 2000s, when he spent occasional nights in cannabis grow houses because, hey, somebody had to be there.
But 4&20 is trying to stack their deck as much as possible by obtaining a building before applying and agreeing to act as an incubator for an equity applicant. The current currier for 4&20, Dave Hartfield III, wants to establish his own transportation company and is applying as an equity applicant who will be incubated by 4&20. This means that 4&20 will provide Hartfield with 1,000 sqare feet in which to operate for three years.
Moore sees this as another way to help people succeed in this industry, one that he knows has been around for a long time and has a rich history worth preserving.
“There’s a lot of people coming into the industry that don’t know the history, and I felt that there was a way that we can recognize the people that came before us, that have faced incarceration or taken the kinds of risk that have provided California with the reputation of having the best cannabis in the world,” he said.
The still-in-production plans for the new 4&20 cannabis culture center include vocational training to teach people about the history and science of the cannabis plant, and how to grow their own. They also want to host Ted-Talk-style presentations from industry leaders, and to log seed genomes to record and begin to explore the differences between the many strains and their many crazy names—the original form of cannabranding.
Still, Moore always stresses that the motivation for this project is rooted in community service. He chose West Oakland because he feels it is a neighborhood in need of a community-focused partner in the cannabis industry. He plans to hire people who live nearby and to make the industrialized area where 4&20 will be into an attractive location.
He said what he does now is almost like cooking, it’s “that same kind of symphony. You put all of these things together to create a full experience and it’s almost like magic. It says a lot about who you are, the things that you bring together, and then also, who you want to share it with.”
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