In the United States, if there’s an enduring narrative that’s universally admired, it’s the “American Dream.” Typified by a hard-working entrepreneur who starts a business with nothing more than an idea, the shirt on their back and huge amounts of elbow grease, it’s the stuff of legends.
In decades past, men like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Sam Walton represented the archetypal business person who made a fortune with a singular vision. More recently, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are admired for their focus, drive and relentless work ethic. All built huge companies and fortunes from scratch by sticking to their vision and overcoming obstacles.
In the cannabis industry, there will undoubtedly be numerous success stories that emerge in the post-legalization era. And while it’s safe to say that it’s unlikely we’ll see a cannabis billionaire until federal restrictions are lifted, the industry is full of hard-working men and women risking everything to fulfill their own dreams of making it.
Danny Grimm, co-owner of Uplifted, an Oregon-based cannabis cultivation business, is a prime example of the new breed of young, hard-working entrepreneurs who are chasing the American Dream in the legal marijuana industry. Originally from Lewiston, Idaho, Grimm left his home state for Oregon in 2002 when he was 17. His life savings consisted of $500. But he had a vision: He believed that in Oregon, where medical marijuana was legal, he could start a new life, grow cannabis and become an early participant in an industry he predicted would eventually thrive.
Like a lot of cannabis entrepreneurs, Danny had many ups and downs and a fair number of false starts. In Salem, where he settled, his original plan was to produce for the medical community. Things were going well until the house he was growing in was suddenly sold out from under him in an unexpected foreclosure deal. His next misadventure came when his landlord suddenly passed away and the family decided to do a home inspection walk-through in preparation for a sale.
“I got a call from his family that night, and they said they wanted to send over an appraiser to take pictures of the home and inspect it the next morning,” Danny recalls. “Having gone through similar episodes in the past, I was prepared, and had an old box van for just such emergencies. I tore down the entire grow, patched up the walls, did some texturing, got all my equipment and plants in the van, and had about 20 minutes to spare when he arrived at 8 a.m. The inspector took about five minutes to walk through the place and take pictures. Then he was gone.”
Afterwards, Danny spent about eight hours putting everything back in the house and getting the grow operational again.
Realizing that medical grows in rental houses were not a reliable business model, Danny looked for a more stable place to operate. He got lucky when he discovered a 5,000-square-foot warehouse that was perfect for an indoor operation. Soon the budding entrepreneur was tending a 30-light medical marijuana production facility, while working a separate, full-time job.
Living in an old warehouse might not be everyone’s idea of great digs, but Danny was happy and successful, saving money and reinvesting in his business. And just when he figured things couldn’t get any better, he met his current business partner. Nathan “Nate” Martinez had family money to invest and instantly clicked with Danny. The two quickly embarked on an expansion program and grew the facility to 150 lights. Things went really well for a while, and business was booming. Then it happened.
According to Danny, “We were a week away from getting a rec license and my leasing agent called us in for a meeting. An inspection of the building next door had revealed an old petroleum tank under our space, and the EPA was forcing the owners to tear down the entire structure because it was a safety and environmental hazard.”
The news left him with the exasperated feeling of “not again.”
But, like any persistent winner with a vision, he once again prepared for the inevitable upheaval, dealt with it and pushed on. A few months later, his real estate agent called with some good news. The two young men could lease a dilapidated 52,000-square-foot building that had once been slaughterhouse. While it was not ideal, the structure offered security and a decent amount of space for expansion. Danny and Nate envisioned a shared indoor grow campus that could be leased to other growers and got to work turning their vision into reality.
Today, Uplifted is still a work in progress. While the warehouse is operational and the partners have won numerous awards for their flower, much work remains. Future plans call for a fully integrated, vertical business that includes four to five in-house producers, two processing labs, a commercial kitchen, a retail outlet and a testing facility. Danny says he’s in it for the long haul with a five-year vision that will proceed one step at a time.
“Whoever said growing marijuana was easy has probably never done it,” Danny says.
With 13 years of hard work behind him and an immense knowledge gained from countless setbacks and rebounds, Danny Grimm seems like the type of man who will ultimately prevail. But in his words, cannabis is not the get-rich-quick scheme so many people seem to think it is.
“Instead, it’s all about personal sacrifice, hard work, little or no pay and sticking with something because you believe in it and hope that one day it all comes together,” he says.
Uplifted and its two partners are doing what countless American business owners have done before them. The American Dream is alive and well in many parts of the U.S., but nowhere is it more obvious than in the new cannabis industry where young pioneers are placing their bets and putting everything on the line to create a new industry from the ground up.