Weedmaps Continues to List Illegal Dispensaries

Guiding customers to unlicensed cannabis is potentially hazardous.

Typing “cannabis dispensaries” into Google — what has become the modern gateway to knowledge — will yield Weedmaps as one of the top results.

Founded in 2008 by Justin Hartfield and Keith Hoerling, Weedmaps has become a valuable tool for those eager to discover which dispensaries are nearby. Unfortunately, one aspect of Weedmaps’ policy now has the potential to put consumers at risk: the company’s refusal to remove unregulated business listings from their website.

In the earliest days of Proposition 64, just after the law went into effect at the start of 2018, there was less pressure for Weedmaps to purge these listings and instead feature only licensed dispensaries on its site. At first, it was understandable to expect a learning curve, especially given that many unregulated operators were actively working to get their licenses.

Should dispensaries that aren’t legit but are on the cusp of getting a license remain on Weedmaps? There was some sympathy on this point — after all, tracking the legality of so many businesses is no small task.

Unfortunately, as we now close in on the end of two full years of regulation, Weedmaps has thus far refused to purge ads for illegal businesses from its site. On Aug. 21, the Irving-based company said it would “stop carrying listings for unlicensed marijuana businesses” by the end of the year. As of Sept. 9, that promise has yet to be honored. Tragically, greater urgency is necessary given that it has become a matter of public health.

An investigation by NBC4 in Los Angeles analyzed samples from 24 dispensaries in the area. Thirty percent of the samples had illegal pesticides in them — and all of the contaminated samples came from unlicensed shops listed on Weedmaps.

The need for consumer trust in dispensaries has risen in recent weeks in light of the mysterious vaping illness that has swept the country. The most common symptoms, according to a recent New York Times story, are “coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath.” Mainly affecting those in their twenties, many have been hospitalized with serious respiratory concerns. As of Sept. 6, five deaths were also attributed to the epidemic.

At this moment, there is no concrete solution for how to eradicate this illness.

What we do have are several obvious steps that must be taken if a serious response to this health crisis is to be mounted. The first, of course, is for people to stop vaping. That seems overly optimistic given that people still smoke and drink alcohol even though both have well-documented deleterious effects on the human body.   Humans: We like a good time, no matter how unhealthy!

A more logical first step would be to demand that businesses like Weedmaps stop enabling these unlicensed dispensaries by giving people an easy way to find them.

As of now, we still don’t know the true culprit, but the FDA has found that a number of individuals who got sick vaped oil containing Vitamin E acetate. That’s not something one will find at any licensed dispensary.

You’ll still find plenty of unlicensed dispensaries on the company’s site today. Coming on the heels of a cease-and-desist sent by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control last February and a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 1 that permits regulators to fine unlicensed parties $30,000 a day, it’s not as though state officials are doing nothing — but the listings persist.

The amount of effort being made by so many to show the validity of cannabis as a medicine and a valuable tool for everyday life gets undermined each time someone finds an unregulated dispensary and offers it their business. It would be bad enough to simply see the business owners who put in the work — applying for a license, getting everything to code and verified, staying abreast of seemingly endless tweaks and updates to the law — not receive their just rewards in the form of steady (and safe) business.

Now, the very fabric of what we’ve worked to build — a public trust in cannabis and a desire to see it made available, legally and safely — is in jeopardy thanks to an unwillingness to stop the worst of the lot from bringing the entire industry down.

Weedmaps needs to execute on its promises faster, before someone else gets hurt by their blatant disregard for safety.

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