The situation for California’s medical marijuana dispensaries and their patients continues to darken. Federal authorities and local officials are putting the squeeze on pot shops across the state, shutting them down by the hundreds and forcing thousands of patients to look elsewhere for their medicine.
One alternative is booming in the vacuum left by these shuttered dispensaries. Small delivery providers have long offered medicinal pot by house call, but in many areas they’re now becoming the dominant means for patients to get their weed.
It’s a situation created by necessity. This spring, the California Supreme Court ruled that counties, cities and other municipalities may use zoning regulations to prohibit marijuana dispensaries. This has allowed hundreds of localities across the state to shut the doors on otherwise legal dispensaries.
Some estimates say more than 80 percent of the state now bans medical weed stores. Only a few liberal counties, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, still allow them, and those counties’ cities are enacting new regulations that limit their numbers.
At the same time, federal law enforcement has been targeting dispensaries throughout California for several years. Hundreds have been shut down, their property seized and, in many cases, their operators prosecuted for violating federal drug laws.
In large cities like L.A. and San Francisco, a small group of entrepreneurs have provided delivery services for years, driving to meet patients too disabled or too poor to get to dispensaries. Now they’re being joined by many of the dispensary owners whose businesses have been shuttered.
Marijuana delivery is popping up across the region, from Safe 420 Delivery to Mobile Meds of Orange County. It’s growing elsewhere in the state, too.
Steve DeAngelo, a major marijuana entrepreneur, owns Harborside Health Center of Oakland, touted as the “world’s largest pot shop.” He’s fighting off efforts by the U.S. attorney to seize his shop and shut him down, and he’s turned to free, same-day delivery as a safety net.
“We decided to launch our delivery service because the federal government is trying to seize our properties,” DeAngelo told the Huffington Post. “We wanted to be able to continue serving our patients, even if we have to close our doors.”
Delivery has become so popular that Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana trade school, is teaching the subject again after years of disinterest. But the future of the business model is uncertain, especially in the blackout zones of California where dispensaries have been banned.
Some cities where delivery services have popped up have tried to stop them. In Garden Grove, where dozens of dispensaries were recently closed, the city has targeted delivery services with fines. It’s unclear whether that effort will stand up to legal scrutiny, but police have said they will act to stop deliveries.
Riverside and other California municipalities have also tried to stamp out delivery services. Now that dispensaries have effectively disappeared from the vast majority of the state, law enforcement in these areas will likely have greater resources to dedicate to harassing delivery drivers and their collectives.