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Weed on-demand: Couriers, retailers chafe at pot delivery restrictions

Portland is home to 19 licensed marijuana delivery services. ( Image: Green Gratitude )

Portland bike courier Dee Branham was eager to participate in the city’s burgeoning cannabis economy. He investigated the possibility of a special cargo bike outfitted with a lock box, and talked to several retailers about potential partnerships.

“I would love to deliver cannabis,” said Branham, a partner with Magpie Messenger. “But no matter what we tried, it didn’t work.”

That’s because Oregon law restricts marijuana delivery to enclosed motor vehicles. The rule locks out bikes, said Mark Pettinger, a spokesperson for the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. “Motorcycles too.”

Cannabis is now legal in 10 states, but getting pot delivered to your home is not exactly like calling Uber Eats. And for would-be entrepreneurs, securing a license to deliver pot is no easy task.

In Oregon, for example, the state issues delivery licenses only to retailers, and the person making the delivery needs to be an employee of the licensee, Pettinger said. The rules are a bit looser for producers and processors who can work with a licensed retailer to transport their product.

Cannabis delivery laws are even stricter in Washington, where the state does not allow for any kind of delivery, said Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. 

Policymakers considered but rejected modifying the law last year so that a courier could bring pot to a private residence. One concern was not being able to verify the age of the purchaser, said Jesse Huminski, store manager for Uncle Ike’s in Seattle’s Central District. “You get to the door and say: ‘Oh wow, you’re not 21.’” It’s a challenge, Huminski agreed. Still, delivery “should be legal,” he said.

In Oregon, the person who orders the cannabis must be present at delivery with a government issued ID.

The Washington Cannabis Board will issue a report later this month on legalizing delivery of medical marijuana, Carpenter said. The concern is that a prohibition on delivery of medical marijuana threatens the health of people who are housebound.

A broader concern in both the retail and medical markets is that black market delivery operations will undercut the development of a robust legal supply chain.

California boasts a flourishing legal delivery market. Licensed retailers who use Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace and delivery app, have made hundreds of thousands of deliveries around the state since the sale of recreational pot started a year ago, according to the Los Angeles Times.  But not all couriers are on board. The licensing is too much of a hassle, said an employee of Dig Courier in San Francisco. “We don’t do that here.”

Cannabis delivery by bike is prohibited.

Only 19 out of 292 cannabis retailers in Portland are licensed couriers. Customer demand for delivery is growing, said Kemper Woodruff, an assistant manager at Green Gratitude Delivery and Dispensary. People don’t necessarily know delivery is an option, Woodruff said. “Then they Google ‘weed near me,’ and we come up.”

But the courier business isn’t simple, he said. Inputting delivery information adds another layer of red tape. Plus, selling legal marijuana is an all cash enterprise, and that adds an element of risk. “It can be an unsafe courier business,” said Woodruff. “It’s not McDonalds and never will be.”

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]