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No Rules Like No Rules: The "Uber of Marijuana" Is Quick and Unregulated. Just Like Uber. - By - November 4, 2014 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

No Rules Like No Rules: The “Uber of Marijuana” Is Quick and Unregulated. Just Like Uber.

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I'm running around South of Market with my smartphone to my ear, looking for my driver. Traffic is thick on this early fall evening and all the taxis whizzing by, with their drivers' eyes glued to the GPS display on the dash, are full.

That's fine. I'm not looking for a ride. I'm looking for weed.

One phone call later and a late-model hybrid Honda pulls up to the Mission Street curb in front of me. I climb into the front seat, and the driver — a young, clean-cut man in his mid-20s named Charles — goes to work. Even in commute madness, Charles delivers medical marijuana anywhere in the city in “10 to 15 minutes.”

Charles is one of the first people to sign up as a driver for Eaze. Founded by an early employee of the business social network Yammer (which got into weed following Yammer's buyout by Microsoft for $1.2 billion in cash), Eaze went live in August, buoyed by headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle that trumpeted the arrival of “the Uber of marijuana.”

And just like Uber, instant gratification is guaranteed, thanks to a small fleet of drivers like Charles cruising around San Francisco toting scent-proof briefcases stuffed full of prepackaged bags in the backseat.

A recent music grad (he has a master's degree in conducting orchestras, but no industry gig yet), Charles says he considered driving for Lyft. But a few things drew him to the marijuana industry: He can make up to $45 an hour during a 10-hour shift, the service's web site claims (but to earn that, you'd need to do four deliveries in an hour; we averaged about two to three in our evening together). He's also in on the ground floor with a company in an emerging industry, run by a man who's already had enormous business success.

Right now, Eaze's business plans are fluid. Initially, there was a promise to deliver weed 24 hours a day, but there wasn't enough demand for pot at 3 a.m. to justify someone driving around all night with a half-pound of weed. So now orders end around midnight, but they'll deliver to wherever a legal cannabis consumer might be at that hour, including a bar.

Other smartphone-hailed cannabis deliveries have since laid claim to the “Uber of” title, including a competitor named Meadow that went live last month (though TechCrunch pivoted with its headline heralding an “Uber-for-marijuana”).

Of the two, Eaze probably deserves the Uber title the most. Just like Uber, Eaze is doing what other regulated services already do, minus the regulations part.

Eaze has no permit of any kind to deal marijuana. That's a risky move given the federal Justice Department's reminder to the California cannabis industry that a regulated, permitted industry is an industry that won't get raided.

Except Eaze isn't actually delivering any weed.

Not unlike an Uber driver, Charles is not an Eaze employee (there are only four, including founder Keith McCarty). Charles is not even an Eaze contractor. He's working for a transportation company, an LLC that's delivering weed on behalf of a Seattle-based cannabis collective.

It's the cannabis collective that contracts with Eaze, which charges the marijuana provider a per-delivery fee for connecting dispensary-to-customer via their software.

To distribute cannabis to 10 or more people in San Francisco, city law says you need a Department of Public Health dispensary permit. State law says you need to collect and pay state sales taxes. Neither of those are Eaze's concern.

“We're the technology service,” McCarty tells me during a brief and vague interview. “We definitely don't need to be permitted.”

These levels of separation are more smart than shady. Since Eaze doesn't actually handle any marijuana, the company's risk is significantly reduced. What's left is an investor-friendly platform that can easily be ported to other cities across the country.

Eaze's permit-less situation ends soon. The company will announce on Nov. 6 a partnership with a permitted city weed club. However, in a San Francisco full of Ubers, it's hard to imagine anyone but purists caring about permits.

Because not even the authorities care.

Law-flouting weed delivery services are nothing new. Only a few delivery-only dispensaries in town have ever had a permit, and only because their storefronts were shut down.

None of the other unpermitted delivery services ever had problems with law enforcement. Usually, they just peter out — because, believe it or not, it's hard to make money delivering marijuana in San Francisco. Successful business happens via a storefront dispensary.

And those have weak regulations, too. As has been repeated ad nauseum in this space, there's no statewide cannabis industry oversight, no Alcoholic Beverage Control for weed. And the Department of Public Health has yet to shut down a dispensary for breaking any rules.

Uber likes to point out how messy the taxi industry is whenever the issue of regulations come into play. It was only a matter of time before someone discovered how much messier marijuana is, and took advantage.

But will it work? It might not matter. After all, Eaze isn't delivering any marijuana, in the same way Uber doesn't provide a single ride.