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Sober up, Weedmaps. Refusing to follow California’s cannabis laws is bad for business

Cannabis 101: Here’s what you need to know about recreational marijuana

Budtender Danny Cress gives a crash course in recreational marijuana, legal in California as of Jan. 1.
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Budtender Danny Cress gives a crash course in recreational marijuana, legal in California as of Jan. 1.

The executives of Weedmaps must have been smoking something when they decided they could have it both ways with California’s cannabis laws.

Just two years ago, the Irvine-based company, known across the web as the “Craigslist of cannabis,” was spending mightily on Proposition 64. The company was instrumental in getting the ballot initiative to legalize and regulate pot before voters, who overwhelmingly approved it.

Now, though, Weedmaps is refusing to comply with those same state regulations.

In a letter to Lori Ajax of the Bureau of Cannabis Control on Monday, the company’s CEO Doug Francis and President Chris Beals argued that the state agency has no authority to regulate WeedMaps because it is a technology company, not a marijuana company.

The unlicensed cannabis delivery drivers who pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars to post advertisements on the Weedmaps website are technically “third parties,” the company argues, and as an “interactive computer service” that’s covered by the federal Communications Decency Act, Weedmaps can’t be held liable.

This is the same specious argument that Facebook and Twitter use to avoid being held responsible for content on their websites, one that the courts eventually will sort out.

Meanwhile, Weedmaps is brazenly going even further.

In their letter to Ajax, Francis and Beals complained about how hard it has been for pot businesses to get licensed. “Native California licensees,” they wrote, “operate under a regulatory landscape that is so blurry it stifles investment.”

While they certainly have a point about barriers to entry, from high start-up costs to the complex regulatory framework to the numerous cities and counties that have refused to opt in, they have some nerve complaining about the regulations now.

Weedmaps was intimately involved with Proposition 64 during the planning stages. It’s disingenuous to point out the ballot initiative’s flaws now that it’s law, instead of when the company had ample opportunity to do so before voters went to the polls in November 2016.

Francis and Beals need to sober up.

By refusing to abide by state regulations and continuing to allow unlicensed pot shops and delivery drivers to advertise on their website, the executives are undermining the very legal market their company helped create.

Sure, refusing to block listings is a money maker in the short term. But in the long run, that inability to forgo a fast buck could destroy California’s entire legal industry, which doesn’t seem to be a very good business plan.

Why spend tens of thousands of dollars to get licensed and open a legal pot shop when you can buy an ad online and sell your product out of a trunk for a fraction of the cost? Weedmaps is propping up the black market at the same time it’s stifling the state’s efforts to create one that’s above-board.

Already licensed cannabis dealers in Sacramento have been complaining about unlicensed dealers cutting into their profits. The city’s pot czar, Joe Devlin, estimates that up to one-third of Sacramento’s cannabis sales are made through illegal delivery companies.

Beals and Francis either want a legal market or they don’t. Weedmaps can’t have it both ways.

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