Virgil Grant can now talk about it — the illicit deals that went down at his family’s grocery store in Compton in the 1980s and ’90s. Mr. Grant would stuff bags of marijuana into empty boxes of Lucky Charms and hand them to his clients, a drug deal made to look like a trip to the bodega. He vacuum sealed the cash he received and buried it in his backyard, hundreds of thousands of dollars guaranteed to stay fresh.
The years of marijuana prohibition in California are over, and people like Mr. Grant straddle two eras, the criminal past and the legalized future.
Mr. Grant spent more than eight years in federal and state prisons for marijuana dealings. He now has three licensed cannabis businesses in Los Angeles.
As the state debates how to reconcile the legacy of the war on drugs with the new realities of legalization, San Francisco, San Diego and Alameda County have all announced that they will clear thousands of criminal records involving marijuana-related crimes.
Mr. Grant lived through years of prohibition and, notwithstanding the continued federal ban, is now thriving in a multibillion-dollar marijuana industry.
During an interview at the grocery store, which Mr. Grant now rents out, he rattled off a list of his better-known customers, a red carpet parade of rap and hip-hop stars: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Coolio and Tupac among them.
For his celebrity clients, he made special deliveries to music studios.
“I was the weed man,” Mr. Grant said. “They smoked my weed.”
Mr. Grant talks about his old business as a reminiscence. He recounted how for years he would drive north to Humboldt County and stuff marijuana in Samsonites for the return journey — the suitcases kept the potent smell from seeping out.
He has a vision of opening legal marijuana stores in his old neighborhood, but the residents of Compton voted in a special election in January to ban marijuana businesses within the city.
Mr. Grant says he will try to push through another vote in Compton within the next year.
“It would create hundreds if not thousands of jobs,” he said of his plan. “Watch how ‘no’ will become a staunch ‘yes.’”