Before California Watch officially existed, freelance reporter Gary Cohn began working on a project on medical marijuana for the Center for Investigative Reporting. Then in November, after California Watch launched, Cohn teamed up with radio reporter Michael Montgomery. They began to focus attention on delivery services.
The reporting evolved, and California Watch became interested in covering the patchwork of state and local regulations, as the production and distribution of marijuana moved from the shadows and into the mainstream.
As city and county moratoriums were shutting down storefront dispensaries throughout the state, we heard that delivery services were moving in to meet the demand. The question became how do you quantify the number of medical marijuana service providers that operate within the state.
Multimedia Producer Lisa Pickoff-White also wanted to create a map to show where the delivery services were overlaid with moratoriums. Working with reporters Michael Montgomery and Gary Cohn, and with assistance from students at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Pickoff-White and Sarah Terry-Cobo began to see if delivery services could be counted.
The task at hand was more challenging than one might imagine.
We decided to take a two-pronged approach: asking the state for official information on city and county regulations, while also asking the pot industry for updated information on medical marijuana businesses.
Senate Bill 420, the state law allowing medical marijuana co-operatives, charged the state Department of Public Health and the attorney general's office with regulating patient access. Neither the attorney general's office nor Public Health keep a listing of medical marijuana dispensaries, delivery services or individual cities and counties that have moratoriums on dispensaries.
Delivery services reside in a legal gray area. The law reads:
"No person or designated primary caregiver in possession of a valid identification card shall be subject to arrest for possession, transportation, delivery, or cultivation of medical marijuana in an amount established pursuant to this article, unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the information contained in the card is false or falsified, the card has been obtained by means of fraud, or the person is otherwise in violation of the provisions of this article."
At publication, no counties or cities have mentioned delivery services as part of a moratorium or in other legislation. A total of 129 cities and nine counties in California have banned dispensaries. An additional 96 cities and 13 counties have moratoriums, according to Americans for Safe Access. There are also currently no state, county or city laws regulating whether medical marijuana can cross county lines.
With no official count, we turned to the industry to see whether there was a statewide list of medical marijuana delivery services. We began with a well-known lobbying organization, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. A Representative of CaNORML said she updates the CaNORML list on a daily basis, removing duplicates and any addresses that have been returned in the mail.*
We used the NORML list to call dispensaries and ask whether they provided delivery services. In our initial round of calls, we tried to confirm the service's address and website. Quickly, we found the many of the services were no longer operating, were in a legal gray area or would not return our calls. We also learned of many other delivery services that were not on the list.
Many were hesitant to discuss details of their business with a reporter. One angry person even accused us of spying for the government or doing the work of a right-wing, conservative news outlet.
Other co-operative services said they delivered medical marijuana to patients, but only on a case-by-case basis and therefore did not consider themselves a true delivery service. For example, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, based in Santa Cruz, claims to have been in operation for 17 years. Valerie Corral, co-founder and director of WAMM said that some of the co-op members deliver to other members who are homebound – one as far away as Berkeley.
As it became clear that the NORML listings were far from comprehensive, we began making calls to delivery services posting ads on Weedmaps.com and Budtrader.com. While these listings did appear to be more comprehensive and up to date, it was difficult to determine what kind of services they provide: Some were business-to-business sellers, some were home growers who may have only been offering to sell medical marijuana once, and some were bona fide delivery services.
We also contacted those who operate these online listing services. Michael Montgomery called Justin Hartfield, the owner of Weedmaps.com, who confirmed our theory that delivery services were opening rapidly. He also agreed to give us the names, latitudes and longitudes of services that market themselves as delivery services on his listing site. Many of the services listed on Weedmaps.com were also listed on NORML's site, or we had encountered previously in our reporting. The Weedmaps.com listings are up to date because services buy the ads on the site; rates range from $50 to $150 for a monthly ad.
We view this map as a snapshot of delivery services in California as of April 2010. We feel it’s one of the most comprehensive delivery service lists in lieu of any official records.
*This changes a previous sentence that read: "The president of the Northern California chapter of NORML, Dale Gieringer, maintains a list but only adds new service providers as they come and does not remove duplicate listings or those that are no longer in business."