California Threatens Weedmaps Over Promotion of Illegal Cannabis Dispensaries Listings

On February 16, 2018, the Bureau of Cannabis Control issued a cease and desist order to Weedmaps, directing the Irvine internet company that maps marijuana dispensaries to immediately stop promoting businesses that don’t have state licenses. If the company doesn’t immediately drop advertisements for unlicensed businesses, Weedmaps could face criminal and civil penalties, including civil fines for each illegal ad.

The warning is the only cease and desist letter sent by the state to an advertising company, according to bureau spokesman Alex Traverso. But it’s one of more than 900 such letters sent by his agency to unlicensed marijuana businesses since recreational cannabis sales started and licensing requirements kicked in Jan. 1. Traverso said many of those 900-plus black-market shops were discovered on Weedmaps.

Tustin resident Justin Hartfield founded Weedmaps in 2007 with company CEO Doug Francis. The site and its app help visitors find dispensaries and browse their menus, with shops rated much like other businesses are rated on Yelp. The company has grown into an international juggernaut, with offices from Denver to Berlin but much of that business has been built on ad revenue from unlicensed dispensaries. For example, on Wednesday, the app included 20 ads for dispensaries in Anaheim, even though all cannabis businesses are banned in that city.

Weedmaps did not immediately respond to requests for a comment on the letter but, according to company sources, it is determined to remain defiant on the issue of accepting ads from black market shops. The company believes it is up to states and cities to put in a solid regulatory framework and to permit enough licensed marijuana businesses to meet demand. Today, the same information a person can get via Weedmaps is available on Google, Yelp, Craigslist and others. The company believes it is being unfairly targeted for a problem whose solution lies, ultimately, with the state.

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