Sidecar rolls out medical marijuana delivery in SF

Ride-share startup's expansion into logistics comes amid fierce competition with better-funded rivals Uber and Lyft

Sidecar now delivers medical marijuana in San Francisco.Photo by Marta Franco/CNET

Sidecar is aiming for a new high -- literally.

The ride-hailing app, which like Uber and Lyft connects a fleet of on-demand drivers with passengers via smartphone, announced Tuesday that it has formally launched a service to deliver medical marijuana to customers' doorsteps in San Francisco, following a small pilot that began last week.

And it's not going to make anyone wait too long either: Sidecar is pledging that marijuana deliveries will arrive within an hour of an order being placed with local dispensaries. Deliveries will be limited to one ounce per customer, but drivers might be shuttling around as many as four orders -- or four ounces -- at a time. The company says that medicine will be kept in a "safe, lock box during transit."

"Sidecar is able to power the on-demand economy, and medical marijuana is an example of all kinds of products we can deliver," said Sidecar CEO Sunil Paul, explaining his company's entry into the weed delivery business. "The motivation is also that it's high profile."

Sidecar isn't disclosing how much delivering weed will cost its customers, but it says its drivers will collect 80 percent of that fee.

However, munchies will not be riding shotgun. Paul said customers will have to use a different app if they want food--think pizza, wings and a pint of Ben & Jerry's--to show up at the same time as their medicinal weed.

Pot is part of a new frontier for on-demand delivery services in which a growing host of apps help smartphone owners order an array of goods and services. With the touch of a finger, anybody with a smartphone can find someone to watch the kids with UrbanSitter or the dog--or cat or guinea pig or snake--with DogVacay; Instacart gets someone to do your grocery shopping for you; GlamSquad will send out a hair stylist and makeup artist to your home; Luxe will park your car; and Zeel will get you an in-home massage. And that's not even the half of it.

Surprisingly, or not, Sidecar isn't even alone in the weed on-demand business. Uber partnered with a Colorado pot shop in August, and at least eight much smaller marijuana delivery startups have cropped up in the last year alone. In fact, marijuana delivery startup Eaze raised $10 million in funding last month from venture capital firms, including Snoop Dogg's very own fund, Casa Verde Ventures.

Of course, there is the wrinkle that marijuana is highly regulated in California, and still illegal to grow, carry or sell under US federal statutes. So, in order to keep operations above-board Sidecar is partnering with Meadow Care, a San Francisco-based startup that operates a website allowing medical marijuana patients to order from its existing network of licensed, local dispensaries.

Sidecar makes a point to insist that it's following the law to a T. It says that Meadow Care only works with licensed dispensaries and that its drivers--all patients legally allowed to carry medicine in California--will "always verify that the patient who ordered the medicine is the same person who receives the delivery."

For now, Sidecar's foray into weed delivery is limited to San Francisco. But the company wants customers--and investors--to know that its ambitions go way beyond delivering marijuana.

Sidecar already transports everything from groceries to flowers, tacos and power tools in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Boston and Brooklyn. And it says that half the time its San Francisco drivers are carrying paying passengers they're also on their way to deliver something else.

To further boost its delivery business, the company also announced today a new pricing plan. Same-delivery will cost as low as $4.99 while one-hour deliveries will cost as low as $7.49.

Clearly, the company hopes that today's announcement helps distinguish it from much better-financed rivals like Uber and Lyft.

"Our biggest competitor Uber has billions of dollars and a big market cap as everyone knows and they have the power and the intent to own the customer relationship for deliveries," said Sidecar's Paul. "Uber wants to be Amazon."

But Paul says he sees an opening for Sidecar in this increasingly competitive space.

"In this new world of on-demand services, Sidecar wants to be FedEx, and we think we're very well positioned to grab that position."

And starting today, they'll be fighting for it one delivery of Sticky Icky, Purple Haze and Blueberry Kush at a time.

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