The online cannabis community Weedmaps, where users can rate cannabis strains and find local dispensaries, is pushing back against demands from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) that the site cease displaying ads for unlicensed cannabis dispensaries. Earlier this year, BCC chief Lori Ajax sent a cease-and-desist letter to the owners of Weedmaps, claiming that the website was in violation of the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act (MAUCRSA).
Specifically, Ajax pointed to provisions in the bill governing the advertisement of cannabis and cannabis products which states that technology platforms may not run advertisements unless the ad displays the cannabis licensee’s name and license number; which unlicensed dispensaries do not have. In response to the Ajax’s request, Weedmaps sent its own letter to the BCC stating that the bureau did not have the authority to regulate them as they are an “interactive computer service,” which is covered under the Communications Decency Act.
The letter goes on to say that the issue surrounding unlicensed dispensaries has less to do with Weedmaps and more to do with the fact that small cannabis businesses, many of whom have been in operation for nearly two decades, are unable to become licensed.
“Scrubbing the internet of the reality of unlicensed operators that have created thousands of jobs over the last 20 years does nothing to fix the underlying issues,” the letter reads. “It is simply opening a new face of regulatory ‘whack-a-mole’ when the ultimate cause is broken policy…”
Although Weedmaps is confident in their defense, some legal experts are not so sure. Speaking with Green Market Report, Silvia San Nicolas, President and CEO of New Game Compliance, characterized Weedmaps’ policy as both illegal and irresponsible.
“Promoting unlicensed cannabis operations is promoting illegal operations. It is irresponsible and a disservice to both the licensed and unlicensed alike,” said San Nicolas. “For the unlicensed operations it’s a target list for authorities and multi-agency enforcement action. For licensed operations it fosters unfair competition in an already arduous environment. If the California cannabis industry is going to survive and thrive, all stakeholders must embrace the regulatory mandates. Ancillary providers are no exception.”
Currently, neither Ajax nor the BCC has responded to Weedmaps’ defense letter and no legal action has yet been taken against the company.
Weedmaps is not the only cannabis company in the state to be hit by a cease-and-desist letter. Since the start of this year, hundreds of cannabis companies have been hit by such letters. On the other hand, some cannabis companies, like the online platform tökr, have avoided the issue altogether by only working with licensed dispensaries.
“The decision for tökr to work only with legal and licensed dispensaries and brands was an easy one,” said tökr co-founder Brian Campbell. “To validate dispensaries and brands, we work with the city, state and government resources to verify all of our partners are properly licensed and in compliance. With that said, California’s regulatory agencies are working hard to shut down bad players in the space and ensure consumers have access to safe products at compliant locations, which is doing a tremendous amount of good for the sector.”