Weedmaps Riddled with Black Market Pot Delivery
Weedmaps has become a multimillion-dollar marijuana behemoth even as the company has been advertising illegal, unlicensed services in San Francisco (and nationwide).
One of the modern miracles of the legal-marijuana era is how you can just dial up cannabis delivery via apps or websites on your smartphone. With just few clicks, you get your pot delivered right to you, often within 30 minutes or less.
The only catch? Some of the delivery services are unlicensed and illegal, but operate in broad daylight thanks to the hands-off approach of a popular app called Weedmaps.
Recent media reports have made it an open secret that Weedmaps, a sort of Yelp for finding cannabis and dispensaries, has been listing unlicensed, black-market marijuana operations across California and elsewhere in America. The site lists strain reviews and marijuana retailers, and charges dispensaries and delivery services up to $20,000 a month for premium advertising placement.
While Weedmaps listings fluctuate, SF Evergreen found a number of marijuana delivery services here in San Francisco listed with fictional license numbers, or without any license number at all, contrary to California’s strict regulations on cannabis advertising.
In one case, a company called SF Green Delivery lists a license number that appears copied and pasted from a legitimate competitor’s license. When reached for comment, the real license-owning business told us they’d never heard of SF Green Delivery, but declined to comment further on record.
Another listed service called Flavas 24/7 shows a license that does not exist in the state database, and appears to be fictional.
Some of those deliveries have additional illegal business practices described on their Weedmaps profiles.
Flavas 24/7, as the name would indicate, bills itself as a 24-hour delivery service on Weedmaps. But California cannabis laws mandate that delivery services can only do business until 10 p.m.
Nearly 20 other Weedmaps delivery services in the city list no license number whatsoever, even though state law is clear that “A technology platform shall not display an advertisement by a licensee on an Internet Web page unless the advertisement displays the license number of the licensee.”
The BCC hit Weedmaps with a very public legal complaint last year over these listings, saying the company was “aiding and abetting in violations of state law.” Weedmaps was told to “immediately cease” any and all advertising of unlicensed sellers.
But Weedmaps claims that cannabis laws should not apply to them, using the old tech firm we’re-just-a-platform tech argument.
“Weedmaps is an technology company and interactive computer service,” Weedmaps’ president and CEO responded in a retort to the BCC. They argued that since Weedmaps only handles apps and digital technologies — not the actual marijuana — they are not subject to state marijuana laws.
Weedmaps does not feel they are a weed company, even though they have the word “Weed” in their name, just as Uber conceives of itself as an app and not a transportation company. So the unlicensed deliveries and dispensaries remain listed on Weedmaps to this day.
Unlicensed business on Weedmaps have a huge and and unfair leg up on their legal competition, because legitimate permits take years of work and tens of thousands of dollars to acquire.
“Imagine a driver’s license that took three years to get. That’s what happens in cannabis,” says Terrance Alan, retired chair of the Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, which helped write many of these regulations.
Delivery services face their own unique red tape and regulatory hassles.
“They have to operate out of a landing place or a dispatch location that is permitted and legally zoned.” Alan tells SF Evergreen. “They have to have vehicles that are inspected. They have to have insurance. They have to have employees that have insurance and are licensed.”
Unlicensed delivery can effectively ignore all of these requirements.
Weedmaps did not return comment for this article. But they’ve previously given press responses saying that unlicensed business on their site could be legal medical marijuana collectives, a limited classification of shops that were allowed to operate without permits until recently. But new cannabis laws that took effect in January eliminated permit protections for those Prop. 215-era collectives.
California has made less than half of the tax money the state thought it would in the first year of recreational cannabis, and licensed businesses are struggling to survive. Black-market operators have had a stronger foothold than expected, in large part because the some of the companies reshaping the cannabis industry do not, on paper, consider themselves part of the cannabis industry at all.