Although cultivation is a big issue, perhaps the larger obstacle the licensed and unlicensed shops face is related to Weedmaps. Known as the “Yelp for weed,” the Irvine-based advertising company provides ads for both the BB and rogue dispensaries. This not only contributes to the licensed shops losing business to the rogue stores, but it also essentially keeps the unlicensed shops open. “I’ve used most of my savings on getting [New Generation] built; that’s why I don’t spend $10,000 on a billboard and pay Weedmaps $30,000 in advertising,” says Shivley. “I give them $420 a month because I literally have to in order for us to stay on the map, but I won’t give them any more than that. It’s wrong what they’re doing. They’re promoting all these other rogue guys at insanely low costs—way lower than what they offer [the licensed shops]. . . . It’s bullshit.”
Of course, Yelp, Google, Leafly, the Yellow Pages and even the Weekly also offer dispensary listings for licensed and unlicensed shops. That said, when your business is backed by millions (and millions) of dollars—like Weedmaps—your platform automatically becomes the most effective of the lot.
Longwith asserts that Weedmaps shouldn’t advertise rogue shops in cities such as Santa Ana that have opened up their borders to licensed shops. “Advertise all you want with regard to dispensaries in cities that do not have ordinances on their books to allow for licensed dispensaries,” says Longwith. “But with regard to those cities that do have ordinances, they should respect that and not advertise for businesses that don’t have licenses. . . . Weedmaps has an obligation to respect cities that have allowed dispensaries to operate legally.”
Those on the rogue side who participated in the lottery feel backstabbed by Weedmaps. Kandice Hawes-Lopez, an Orange County cannabis activist and founder of the Orange County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told the Weekly last year that when NORML started working on an initiative to get a measure passed, they initially failed. So Hawes-Lopez and the NORML team talked to the dispensaries—all of which were rogue at the time—and got a group together to approach Weedmaps. They asked them if they wanted to be a part of the group, but Weedmaps said no because they didn’t want to get political.
Not long after, Weedmaps allowed OC NORML to hold its meetings at the company’s office, saying it supported the initiative Hawes-Lopez and NORML were driving. But several months later, Hawes-Lopez discovered that Weedmaps had actually contributed cash to gather support for the rival, city-supported initiative, Measure BB. “Weedmaps paid $30,000 to the city’s campaign instead of ours, which was shocking because we thought they were supporting us the whole time when, in fact, they jumped ship and went behind our backs, on top of still letting us have meetings there,” she says. “We felt spied on.”
That experience soured many medical-marijuana activists about Weedmaps, Hawes-Lopez explains. “I think that’s what first ignited the passion and distrust that revolves around Weedmaps and why groups of people in the medical-marijuana industry and community believe that it’s all some kind of conspiracy.”