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What’s Wrong with Marijuana Delivery?

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In The Magazine

What’s Wrong with Marijuana Delivery?

Illustration Daniel Garcia for Cannabis Now

What’s Wrong with Marijuana Delivery?

What should be a simple process finds complications when it comes to cannabis.

Ordering cannabis like you would a pizza, liquor — or anything else in the age of drones, AmazonFresh and Blue Apron — seems like a simple concept, but it’s illegal in Colorado, unworkable in Oregon and the usual mess in California.

Everything goes smoothly at La Cannaisseur, one of Portland, Oregon’s roughly 167 cannabis dispensaries — until someone picks up the phone and calls for marijuana to be delivered. Then, an exceedingly complicated process resembling a poorly assembled Rube Goldberg machine commences.

Though the dispensary, located on the west bank of the Willamette River in the city’s northwest corner, is only a few minutes’ drive away from residential areas in Beaverton and Hillsboro to the south and west, anyone calling from there is out of luck — the dispensary’s drivers can deliver only to metro Portland, which stretches a half-hour away and more to the southeast.

Downtown Portland, with its many hotels housing conventioneers and cannabis-curious visitors, is close by — generating about two-thirds of the dispensary’s delivery requests. But hotels, bars and anything else that’s not a residence is strictly off-limits to drivers, so all must be declined.

When a potential delivery customer does meet the strict requirements, a veritable bureaucratic fire drill ensues. Oregon’s mandated “track and trace” system — intended to keep tabs on every last scrap of legal cannabis in the state, so that no weed leaks across state lines — isn’t currently set up to take deliveries. So the worker taking the call must hang up, write the order down on a piece of paper, enter it into the dispensary’s point of sale system, then void the sale so it’s not tracked twice — then call the delivery customer back to inform them the weed is, at last, on its way.

Spencer Krutzler, La Cannaisseur’s head manager, says that as a result they only get five to eight deliveries a week.

So it’s no wonder that La Cannaisseur is one of the few Portland dispensaries to even bother with the rigmarole of what should be a simple process: order weed, deliver weed, repeat.

Marijuana is legal for all adults 21 and over to cultivate, possess and consume in eight states. Of these, three states have mastered the concept of allowing commercial outlets to conduct retail recreational cannabis transactions — an art practiced to varying degrees with medical marijuana in a handful of other places.

Yet when the transaction takes place over the phone rather than over the counter, strict regulations meant to limit underground, gray-market transactions or prevent legal cannabis from being diverted to other states make the arrangement exceedingly complex — or outright illegal.

In California, where storefronts have sold medical cannabis for more than 20 years, delivery services operate in an all-too-familiar legal gray area. The state’s new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation is in the process of licensing cannabis business — cultivator, retailer or delivery.

In the meantime, Silicon Valley-grade apps like Eaze — the self-styled “Uber for Pot” — and lower-tech delivery networks that advertise on the web or social media work in a landscape that’s pure Wild West.

In Los Angeles, marijuana delivery was outright illegal until March — and even now is waiting for city regulations to be fully kosher.

Last year, the City Attorney took legal action to shut down SpeedWeed, the city’s largest and most flagrant violator. But today, there’s a “Best Medical Marijuana 24 Hour Delivery” category on Yelp with dozens of entries.

And across the state — though “legal” marijuana purchases will require a doctor’s recommendation until Jan. 1, 2018 at the earliest — finding a delivery service with better things to do than check your paperwork is stupendously easy.

In Washington and Colorado, delivery is flatly illegal. Bills introduced in both state legislatures to legalize cannabis delivery this year and last have all failed. And yet, just like in LA, a Google search for someone willing to bring you marijuana “just like a pizza” in Denver and Seattle yields multiple options.

The laxity cuts both ways: At a marijuana-related campaign fundraiser in San Francisco last fall, this reporter met the owner and operator of a delivery that services San Mateo County, just south of the city, which is almost totally bereft of storefront cannabis outlets.

One of his drivers had just been robbed, he told me—and he had to eat the loss and keep the crime quiet. If he called the police, he feared, “they’d start investigating us.”

For now, delivery “isn’t really worth our time and effort because the laws are so strict,” says La Cannaisseur’s Krutzler.

The dispensary will continue offering the service for the time being, with the hope that lawmakers will get wise and streamline the process. But until then, he says the onerous rules aren’t “helping us run a good business.”

Originally published in Issue 27 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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