IRVINE Calif. – The Bureau of Cannabis Control has issued Weedmaps a cease-and-desist letter instructing the dispensary directory to remove from its site all advertising for unlicensed cannabis businesses.
“You are aiding and abetting in violation of state cannabis laws,” states the letter from BCC chief Lori Ajax.
The letter warns Weedmaps could face both criminal and civil penalties if it does not take down the advertisements. A fine is possible for each ad the state considers illegal.
The letter to Weedmaps is one of 900 similar letters sent since recreational sales began January 1. The other 899 letters went to unlicensed cannabis businesses, many of which the BCC found on Weedmaps, according to a BCC spokesperson.
Founded in 2007, Weedmaps lists cannabis dispensary information including location, contact info, menus, and pricing. The company that operates the website has offices in Irvine, Denver, New York, Toronto, Barcelona, and Berlin.
Weedmaps spokesperson Carl Fillichio told mg the company has not yet responded to the letter.
Alex Traverso, BCC chief of communications, told mg there is “no specific action to report at this time, though we’re always on the lookout for ways to transition unlicensed businesses into the legal market.”
Weedmaps President Christopher Beals told the The Orange County Register targeting his business is unfair.
“The thing is, at the end of the day, we’re an information platform,” he said. “We’re showing the same information that Google and Yelp and Craigslist and 30 other websites are showing. To sort of say, ‘Let’s pretend an illegal market doesn’t exist’ or that people can’t just type ‘dispensary’ into Google and find this information… isn’t really realistic.”
Leafly, one of Weedmaps’ primary competitors, began removing ads from unlicensed shops March 1.
“The California state government has made clear that only licensed retailers and delivery services may advertise via technology platforms,” the company said in a February 7 press release.
According to the letter from Ajax, under Senate Bill 94, ads from cannabis businesses must include a California license number to show they are in compliance with state law.
“This differs in no way than requiring a contractor to list their state contractor’s license number or a real estate broker to list their license number,” said Aaron Herzberg, a cannabis industry attorney with an ownership stake in two Santa Ana dispensaries.