Weedmaps has become a multimillion-dollar marijuana behemoth, even as the company advertises illegal services without a license in San Francisco (and across the country).
One of the modern wonders of the legal marijuana era is how you can simply dial in cannabis delivery via apps or websites on your smartphone. With just a few clicks, your jar will be delivered directly to you, often in 30 minutes or less.
The only catch? Some delivery services are unlicensed and illegal, but operate in broad daylight thanks to the hands-off approach of a popular app called weed cards.
Recent media reports have made it an open secret that Weedmaps, a sort of Yelp for finding cannabis and dispensaries, has listed illegal marijuana activities on the black market all over California and elsewhere in America. The site features reviews of strains and marijuana retailers, and charges pharmacies and delivery services up to $20,000 per month for placing premium ads.
While Weedmaps’ offers fluctuate, SF Evergreen found a number of marijuana delivery services here in San Francisco with fictitious license numbers, or no license number at all, in violation of California’s strict regulations for cannabis advertising.
In one case, a company called SF Green Delivery lists a license number that appears to have been copied and pasted from a legitimate competitor’s license. When we asked for comment, the real licensing company told us they had never heard of SF Green Delivery but declined to comment further.
Another listed service called Flavas 24/7 shows a license that does not exist in the state database and appears to be fictitious.
Some of those deliveries have additional illegal business practices described on their Weedmaps profiles.
Flavas 24/7, as the name implies, bills itself as a 24 hour delivery service on Weedmaps. But California’s cannabis laws dictate that delivery services can only do business until 10 p.m.
Nearly 20 other Weedmaps delivery services in the city do not list any license number, although state law is clear that “a technology platform may not display a licensee’s ad on an Internet web page unless the ad displays the licensee’s license number. ”
The BCC hit Weedmaps last year with a very public legal complaint about these listings, saying the company was “complicated in violations of state law.” Weedmaps was ordered to “immediately cease” all ads from unlicensed sellers.
But Weedmaps argues that cannabis laws shouldn’t apply to them, using the old technology company that we’re just a platform technology.
“Weedmaps is a technology company and interactive computing service,” Weedmaps president and CEO said in a statement 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 doesn’t feel like a weed company, even though they have the word “Weed” in their name, just like Uber sees itself as an app, not a transportation company. So the unlicensed supplies and pharmacies remain listed on Weedmaps to this day.
Unlicensed businesses on Weedmaps have a huge and unfair advantage over their legal competition, as legitimate permits take years of work and tens of thousands of dollars to obtain.
“Imagine a driver’s license that took three years to get. That’s what happens with cannabis,” said Terrance Alan, retired chair of the Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, who helped write many of these regulations.
Delivery services face their own unique red tape and regulatory challenges.
“They must operate from a landing site or shipping location that is permitted and zoned by law.” Alan tells SF Evergreen. “They must have vehicles that are inspected. They must have insurance. They must have employees who have insurance and are licensed.”
Unlicensed delivery can effectively ignore all these requirements.
Weedmaps did not return any comments on this article. But they’ve previously provided press releases saying that unlicensed businesses on their site could be legal medical marijuana collectives, a restricted classification of stores that were allowed to operate without a license until recently. But new cannabis laws which went into effect in January eliminated license protections for those collectives from the Prop. 215 era.
California has earned less than half the tax money the state expected from recreational cannabis in its first year, and licensed businesses are struggling to survive. Black market operators have gained a stronger foothold than expected, largely because some companies reforming the cannabis industry do not consider themselves part of the cannabis industry at all on paper.