Paul Warshaw hopes that, in the near future, consumers of marijuana can turn to similar services both for their drug of choice and for the delivery food that the plant infamously causes lust for. Warshaw’s start-up, GreenRush, is attempting to become the Seamless of marijuana. Just browse the dispensaries on the website, select the appropriate strain, and set a delivery time. An iOS app is, of course, in development, so you can buy straight from your couch without even having to touch a keyboard.
Officially launched last week, the San Mateo-based GreenRush is already working with several dispensaries in the San Francisco area to deliver marijuana, and the experience is eerily similar to its restaurant counterpart, down to listed delivery times (most are estimated between 45 and 60 minutes). California Wellness, for example, will get you at least $50 worth of weed flowers, pre-rolled joints, or edibles in under an hour. For a drug that remains federally illegal, the experience feels far more normal than any that have preceded it.
“The overall process of getting cannabis was very onerous, with everything from finding a dispensary to getting in the car and driving there to waiting in line and filling out paperwork,” Warshaw says. “We’re providing patients with as many options as we can.” GreenRush takes the weed-buying process and makes it frictionless—that tech industry term of choice suggesting a breaking down of harmful barriers—in a way not unlike how Uber has changed ordering a taxi. Except in this market, it’s drug dealers who are getting disrupted.
While companies like Leafly provide Yelp-style reviews of cannabis strains and dispensaries, fewer entrepreneurs are willing to deal closely with the product itself.
“Each dispensary puts up its menu on our website, just as a GrubHub or Seamless would. Then it allows users to look through menus, and order their usual or discover and try new products,” Warshaw says. “We’re connecting patients and dispensaries.”
Marijuana was once a much-barricaded product—by law and by logistics. The drug was available, and if one had access to the right contacts, even accessible by delivery most of the day and night. But the culture of socially acceptable marijuana consumption was built on presumptions of economic class and race that meant the drug retained its divisive quality. If it’s easy and safe for you to procure weed, you’re probably already doing all right. Platforms like GreenRush are bringing this experience to anyone with a medical marijuana card.
That doesn’t mean they’re breaking laws. The Web platform actually makes restrictions easier to enforce. “The patient comes on to a website and can browse without signing up. When they’re ready to order, there’s a simple verification process. They upload a driver’s license and a medical card, and within minutes we’re able to verify that they’re a patient,” Warshaw says. “Once they’re verified they can freely order from dispensaries listed on the platform.” A ring at the doorbell is only a few minutes away.
It’s not just customers who are benefiting from the Silicon Valley-style normalization of the marijuana market. It’s also dispensary owners who gain the ability to be more public with their goods. “The biggest challenge is there’s not a lot of platforms or places for dispensaries to promote themselves,” Warshaw says. While companies like Leafly provide Yelp-style reviews of cannabis strains and dispensaries, fewer entrepreneurs are willing to deal closely with the product itself. “We’re staying pretty far away from the plant and money side of things,” Warshaw says.
Instead, these companies stand to gain more from helping those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Marijuana can be difficult to grow, as best practices aren’t scientifically established. But it’s even more confusing to navigate the many constraints a truly legal marijuana business must face. “We were getting contacted by groups that have these licenses and woke up and said, ‘Whoa, what’s going to happen now,’” says Adam Bierman, a founder of MedMen, a marijuana business consulting group that manages cultivation and dispensaries. “We take existing dispensaries and do branding and marketing, we put it together and call it management services.”
GreenRush sees itself in a similar marketing role. “We’re giving dispensary partners exposure through these platforms. Each relationship with each dispensary is going to be unique, with promotions and deals,” Warshaw says. “Some of partners are well established, and we’ll be an ancillary marketing vehicle. Some are new, smaller—they need us more. Those are the properties we’ll work really closely with, helping with everything from tech to marketing to signing up delivery drivers.”
The problem is, platform businesses only work if they can scale, and it’s unclear if weed production is entirely scalable. The marijuana industry, and individual companies especially, remain small—more like the local hardware store than a massive lifestyle brand on the level of, say, Courvoisier. That’s in part because the same legal authorities that allow them to exist are doling out licenses sparingly, keeping volume low.
GreenRush has partnerships with around 15 dispensaries and hopes to expand quickly, the same way Uber or Seamless has. Rather than digital infrastructure, the limitation it faces is the slow pace of marijuana reform cutting down its potential markets to connect dispensaries and patients. But GreenRush’s technological product could prove addictive, even if the plant itself isn’t. Convenience, after all, is its own drug, no matter what’s getting delivered.
Disruptions is Kyle Chayka’s weekly column for Pacific Standard about personal technology and the way it influences our daily lives.