We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

In his gray Donegal tweed cap, untucked dress shirt and jeans, Josh Clark hardly looks the part of a delivery man. Then again, he's not coming to the door with pizza or Chinese food.

On a warm afternoon last week, the 30-year-old Petaluma resident walked up to a modest single-story home in Santa Rosa's Junior College neighborhood to deliver a white envelope with about an eighth of an ounce of marijuana to a man in his mid-70s with skin cancer and compressed discs.

The delivery — worth about $45 — was a freebie for "someone who really needs it," Clark said. A general contractor by trade, Clark operates Sonoma Cannabis Caregivers, a delivery service that is part of the latest trend in the sale of medical marijuana.

With cities and counties moving to ban, restrict or regulate dispensaries of medical marijuana, a growing number of delivery services are cropping up in California, and on the North Coast. The trend takes advantage of the gray area between the state's 14-year-old "compassionate use" law and local regulations.

"There's a massive influx of people wanting to break into the industry," Clark said.

A study by California Watch, a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, found that these services, particularly in Southern California, are grabbing more and more of the medical marijuana market.

In Sonoma County, closer to the cultivation of what is regarded as the state's biggest cash crop, home delivery of medical marijuana is not as extensive as it is such areas as Los Angeles.

It's unclear exactly how many delivery services exist on the North Coast. California Norml, a group advocating the legalization of marijuana, lists about a dozen delivery services in the "North Coast and Inland."

These services advertise in newspapers, on Craigslist and on websites such as Weedmaps.com, typically offering daily deliveries to "qualified" patients with valid medical marijuana ID cards. They say the benefits of home delivery are simple.

"You want to pay $50 for a pizza and have to go get it, or $25 and have it delivered," said Lawrence, who asked that his last name not be used. He is the director of Novato-based Green Door Wellness Education Center, a medical marijuana collective that has been making deliveries for about a month.

He said the collective's storefront closed April 22 because of alleged zoning violations. Rather than fight the city of Novato, he said took his collective to the streets, delivering to homes, in parking lots, wherever it's convenient.

"They closed down our brick-and-mortar storefront, so now we're resorting to this," he said, adding that the delivery service typically is limited to a 30-minute driving radius a $50 minimum purchase.

"I can't be chasing $20 or $5. Nobody is showing up at the pharmacy with $5 looking for one pain pill," he said.

Eric Litchfield, who heads the narcotics division of the Santa Rosa Police Department, said he's aware of only one inquiry to the city for licensing of a "mobile dispensary."

"I can't keep up with the cultivation and the dispensaries," he said. "Delivery services haven't really come on the radar yet."

In Sonoma County, a delivery service called North Coast Collective was started about a month ago by a 35-year-old former Santa Rosa bank employee who was recovering from chemotherapy treatment for intestinal cancer. Tom, who asked that only his first name be used, also is a medical marijuana patient and said the collective has about 50 members.

The organization is aimed at serving those who truly are not mobile, he said. "I can tell you how important it is to have a delivery service for somebody that is sick," he said. "I found that out."

He said the collective is not making anybody rich. "You add in the sales tax and everything else on top of that, it's not even a break-even thing," he said.

In December, a Sonoma County judge invalidated the county's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, giving rise to new fixed-location clubs operating without regulation. Since that injunction issued by Superior Court Judge Robert Boyd, at least six dispensaries have opened on the outskirts of Santa Rosa and Cotati and elsewhere in unincorporated areas.

Clark, of Sonoma Cannabis Caregivers, said the majority of people who visit his delivery website are from outside California. The breakdown of those who call him is telling, he said.

"Sixty percent are people wanting to start a delivery service or dispensary, looking for free advice," he said, adding that an additional 30 percent are "vendors" looking to sell their marijuana.

Only 10 percent of the calls he gets are from people looking to buy.

In Mendocino County, one operation is modeling itself on organic farms that deliver distinctive boxes of fruits and vegetables directly to customers' homes.

Matthew Cohen, owner of Northstone Organics, pioneered what he calls "farm-direct medical marijuana." The Ukiah-based cooperative grows and delivers marijuana to a network of 500 qualified patients in the nine Bay Area counties, including Sonoma County.

"Because we're a delivery service, we have less hoops to jump through and no people coming in through the door," Cohen said.

Northstone's business has grown briskly. Six months ago, Cohen was driving around the Bay Area twice a week and making the deliveries himself. Now he's hired workers who deliver five times a week.

Cohen distinguishes his operation from those that "deliver within the hour like they were hawking pizza." That approach, he said, could end up in trouble.

Northstone Organics has a 48-hour turnaround time, deliveries are kept to under an ounce and only credit-card or money-order payments are accepted, he said.

Santa Rosa officials said such deliveries are considered illegal because only city-permitted dispensaries are allowed to sell medical marijuana, and dispensaries are not allowed to deliver.

"We don't have any individual delivery services because then they would not be in compliance with the ordinance limiting medical cannabis sales to dispensary operators," said Santa Rosa city planner Noah Housh.

Litchfield, the Santa Rosa narcotics officer, said that from a law enforcement perspective, the only thing that's legal is "possession for a medical reason."

"That's fine," he said. "What's in complete dispute now is how patients get it. That's the area of complete confusion."

For now, delivery services are taking advantage of that confusion. But most distributors say the service is not lucrative.

"I would much rather own a successful pizza delivery service than a medical marijuana delivery service," said Clark.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

Show Comment