Pubdate: Thu, 26 Nov 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


It's a good time to be one of California's roughly 1.1 million 
marijuana users. Yes, cannabis is legal for recreational purposes in 
Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and elsewhere - but so what? In the 
Golden State, weed is also widely available - and for free.

For years, medical cannabis dispensaries have offered promotional 
gimmicks like a free joint or edible for first-time patients. This 
year, as the state's biggest cash crop inched towards $2 billion in 
legal sales at storefronts, several outfits started offering free 
eighths (worth about $50) - and they have gone to great lengths to 
make sure that patients are aware of the offer of free pot.

Case in point: About a month ago, I renewed my doctor's 
recommendation for medical cannabis (Yes, friends, good news: I am 
still sick). On my way out of the doctor's clinic, I was met by a 
"brand ambassador" for one of the new, well-funded weed delivery 
startups. He handed me a coupon for $50 off my first order - and then 
handed me a few more, "to give to your friends."

Large and small, many cannabis companies are trying to entice users 
to their services by promising free cannabis. Eaze, the year-old 
company founded by a software tycoon - and the firm with the biggest 
and most consistent presence at the New West Summit cannabis 
conference at the Parc 55 Hotel this past weekend - is in on this, as 
are newer entries like delivery service Quil (which is offering, 
after an initial $49 credit, "$7 off your next 7 orders!").

Historically, the medicine offered as part of a promotion is 
low-quality, like the aforementioned prerolls (notorious for their 
harshness, but appreciated for their freeness). Not so now: While you 
won't score an Emerald Cup-winner for free, you can apply the 
discount to the service's main menu.

This is done for several reasons. One, for startups backed by venture 
capital, growing the user base is initially more important than 
turning a profit. And two, free weed apparently entices the 
beneficiaries to buy more. In this way, each new user enticed to a 
service is worth much more than the $50 up-front investment - even, 
in some cases, if nothing further is purchased (since growing the 
user base rather than sales is what pleases some VC funders).

Free weed hasn't worked for everybody. "Cannabis of the month club" 
Marvina - which delivered a different selection of top-shelf bud 
every four weeks, and allowed you to offer one free trial delivery to 
a friend - ceased operations in October, just a month shy of its one 
year anniversary.

Despite interest around the country in the seemingly-unbeatable offer 
of free weed, Marvina "had trouble attracting new customers," founder 
Dane Pieri told me recently.

Marvina was bootstrapped and had a limited marketing budget, he 
added, and since it's a cannabis business, it was not allowed to 
advertise on platforms such as Facebook and Google (Silicon Valley is 
conservative on weed; Facebook-owned Instagram still shuts down 
cannabis-related accounts).

However, free cannabis is working for established players as well as 
high-tech newcomers. One storefront dispensary operator seeking to 
promote a new delivery service has offered a promotion for $25 off a 
first delivery. The service is now selling $100,000 of cannabis a 
month - just off of delivery.


U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer's affirmation last month that a 
Congressional amendment limits the Justice Department's ability to 
enforce federal marijuana law was one of the biggest-ever victories 
for legal weed. In fact, as Breyer ruled, the Farr-Rohrabacher 
amendment to the DOJ budget means that, in states where cannabis is 
legal and the cannabis activity is following state law, the DOJ 
cannot enforce federal marijuana law at all.

The amendment in question is set to expire with the next omnibus 
spending bill. But the amendment's chief authors, U.S. Reps. Dana 
Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and Sam Farr (D-Carmel) have pledged 
not only to renew it, but to expand it. In all, 56 members of the 
House of Representatives have signed a letter calling for the 
limitation of the feds' reach to be renewed.

The omnibus bill could be final as soon as Nov. 30. And while it's 
not a rescheduling of cannabis or a repeal of prohibition, it's the 
next best thing.


One more tidbit for you as you pick through leftovers: Assemblyman 
Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) was one of the principal authors of the Medical 
Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed 
into law in October (after Brown's people rewrote the thing in 
August, but: details).

The rules are some cause for concern, as - among other things - they 
insert into the cannabis supply chain a "distributor," to whom 
cannabis must be sent from a producer before it can reach a dispensary shelf.

Addressing concerns from industry operatives, Bonta spoke at the New 
West Summit on Saturday, pledging that "clean-up" language would be 
introduced in the next legislative session.

Minutes afterpromising this to the marijuana industry at the Parc 55 
Hotel, Bonta was seen having a spirited discussion with former San 
Francisco Mayor Willie Brown at the hotel's bar.

Brown, keep in mind, has done lobbying for industry powerhouses like 
Harborside Health Center - whose CEO, Steve DeAngelo, wrote a recent 
book for which Brown provided the foreword.

What does Willie want this time around? We'll have to take a look at 
future "clean up" bills to find out.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom