Sep 03

Weedmaps won’t offer timeline for ending promotion of illegal marijuana shops

Though Weedmaps promised two weeks ago that it would stop advertising illicit marijuana businesses through its online directory, the Irvine-based company is still being vague about when that promise will actually become a reality.

Both legal cannabis businesses and state regulators are pushing Weedmaps to start removing hundreds of illegal ads now. Until that happens, they say Weedmaps is continuing to boost illegal operators that undercut legal operators, stifle state tax revenue and, in some cases, make people sick.

“Time is of the essence,” said Jerred Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry trade group that’s pushed legislation to penalize promotion of unlicensed operators. “It is crucial to establish a near-term deadline in order to truly protect Californians.”

Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals would only say in an emailed response that the company “will have more to share in the weeks ahead,” while spokesman Travis Rexroad said Tuesday that he’ll have more specifics “in the near future.”

Weedmaps has promoted illicit shops and delivery services since launching its Yelp-like service for the marijuana industry in 2008. The practice continued even after California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control sent Weedmaps a cease-and-desist letter in February 2018. And it’s still going even though Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that lets regulators fine unlicensed parties up to $30,000 each day that they’re in violation of state cannabis laws, potentially putting Weedmaps on the hook for nearly $1 million in fines since the urgency bill took effect July 1.

Nicole Elliott, Newsom’s recently appointed senior adviser on cannabis, said Weedmaps’ Aug. 21 pledge to drop illicit businesses is a signal that the company is taking the state’s priority of compliance to heart. But like anything, she added, “the devil is in the details.”

Weedmaps’ announcement, which did not offer any fixed deadline or explanation for the delays, feels to Scott Benson, CEO of licensed Los Angeles-based cannabis product manufacturer Apex Extractions, like a “PR move” aimed at keeping state fines at bay.

“They’re saying ‘Someday soon, trust us, we’re going to stop,’” Benson said. “Now they can just play it out as long as they can.”

Meanwhile, Benson and others say Weedmaps’ choice to continue making money from the illicit marijuana market is having an impact across the state and country.

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