03 Budding Tech
Need weed? Now you can get pot delivered to your door
California’s loosening laws are making it easy for on-demand services to deliver marijuana to patients stuck at home.
by Brett Murphy / November 19, 2015 4:20pm
Mark Daniel plops his tackle box on the kitchen table, then cracks it open to show off the selection. He’s got organic granola bars with cannabis, cannabis covered in chocolate, pot-infused cookies, gummy chews and tinctures of pot oil that you drop beneath your tongue.
The frail, elderly woman across the table likes the sound of that last one. She has throat cancer and would prefer something she didn’t have to smoke.
She giggles at the thought of getting a bit stoned and finally sleeping through the night. “Yes, this is medicine,” she says, making her choice.
More than 600,000 Californians have medical marijuana cards alllowing them to legally use the drug, according to cannabis investor network The ArcView Group. Some are confined to home, while others don’t have easy access to the estimated 1,500 dispensaries in the state. That's where people like Daniel, who delivers cannabis goodies for Flash Buds in Los Angeles, can help.
“If it wasn’t for delivery services, a lot of patients wouldn’t have access at all,” says Lauren Vazquez, deputy director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which works to change federal and state laws on pot use.
At Flash Buds, customers register online, place orders and wait for a home drop-off within an hour. The San Diego-based collective delivers in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas.
It’s the latest twist in the “on-demand” model popularized by ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft. In addition to Flash Buds, SpeedWeed and Nugg connect patients with California’s licensed pot dispensaries in Los Angeles; Eaze and Meadow do the same in San Francisco; and CleverTree and Fruitful cover Sacramento. Dozens of other services have also sprung up throughout the state.
It’s an open question as to whether these guys are legal. The companies say they’re not actually in the marijuana business. Rather, they’re liaisons between customers and a service or product.
David Ball, a law professor at Santa Clara University, doesn’t buy it.
“These delivery companies are operating in a legal gray area, to put it mildly,” he says, noting they could just as easily deliver pot to people who might sell it illegally.
Even marijuana legalization advocates aren’t sure about the on-demand business. The law says no one should profit from the sale of marijuana. But, says Vazquez, “that’s the way things are being done in California.”
“We forget that there are a lot of people who are homebound and can benefit from cannabis”
-Mark Daniel of Flash Buds
Each app works pretty much the same way: The software confirms your prescription and finds a nearby dispensary. It then displays a menu of products and marijuana strains, with names like “Tangerine Dream” and “Holy Grail Kush.” After you place your order, the app registers it with a driver.
Eaze might be the front-runner in this growing field. The startup got $1.5 million in backing in 2014 and another $10 million this year, making it the best-funded cannabis delivery company in the San Francisco Bay area. Eaze now has 50 employees, up from 13 when it launched in July 2014. It’s also recruited thousands of blue T-shirted “brand ambassadors,” who pass out promo codes and get a commission for every customer they sign up.
Eaze promises delivery in as little as 10 minutes. It even offers online medical consultations, so you can renew your prescription from the couch. Eaze founder Keith McCarty says his business is ahead of the field in what he sees as a “winner-take-all” race. He doesn’t share Eaze’s sales numbers.
Meadow could be Eaze’s closest rival. Co-founder David Hua and three friends began the service last year, not long after graduating from Oaksterdam University, a cannabis college in Oakland, California, with pot-specific business, law, science and horticulture courses.
In February, Meadow got $120,000 in seed funding from Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator, which has also backed other notable tech startups, including Reddit and Airbnb. Meadow has since teamed with SideCar, a ride-hailing and delivery service, to reach more Bay Area customers.
Hua also declines to to provide revenue figures.
Other California delivery services include Nugg in Los Angeles, which works on contract with dozens of marijuana dispensaries. It works with other delivery services, too.
One of those is Flash Buds, the marijuana collective that delivered cannabis to the elderly cancer patient.
“We forget that there are a lot of people who are homebound and can benefit from cannabis,” says Daniel.
Brett Murphy (@BrettMmurphy) is a San Francisco Bay Area-based reporter who’s written about tech, business, science and culture.
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