Mendocino County marijuana farmer develops pot delivery app

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Near the heart of the remote Round Valley in Mendocino County, a back-to-the-land father and cannabis farmer is trying to get in on the ground floor of an industry that could skyrocket if recreational use of marijuana is legalized in California next year.

From his home office on a 20-acre pear ranch in Covelo, Joshua Artman launched what he calls a “farm-to-table” toolbox of smartphone applications designed to link small-scale marijuana farmers with patients, dispensaries and delivery services.

His free Loud Cannabis marijuana delivery app, voted “Best New Marijuana App” by CannaNews last month, links patients to delivery services in the Sacramento area, a market that has about 1,000 current users and, Artman said, was less saturated with startups than cities like San Francisco.

His newly launched Big Green Exchange is designed to be an auction site for dispensaries to access boutique, organically grown outdoor marijuana from what he calls the nation’s “cannabis breadbasket.” Artman and other budding entrepreneurs have been energized by a widely anticipated voter referendum to legalize general use of pot for adults that also is attracting high-profile venture capital.

The specter of big business eclipsing the livelihood of the local pot farmers who have been flourishing in the remote, rugged areas of Northern California’s marijuana hinterland, has motivated people like Artman to make plans.

“It could be a $40 billion industry here in five years,” he said. “Now is the time that we need to band together and make it good for all of us.”

Artman said his tech ventures reflect the ethos of many in the mountain-locked community of just over 1,200 people, where families grow food and pot, raise livestock, fix cars, tinker with solar, weld and mend in an industrious micro-economy of people “making things pencil out.”

Rural life

Artman, a former federal employee with years working with the Commerce Department and the Geological Survey, and his wife, an Air Force veteran, bought the Covelo ranch six years ago to raise their children in a rural environment. There’s one road in, and one road out.

It’s a way of life distinct from the on-demand service market that Artman aims to capitalize upon by streamlining cannabis distribution network for boutique producers.

But it’s also a strategic move the man hopes will establish a path to customers for small-scale farmers as California marches toward legalization.

Artman is a member of the Small Farmers Association, a group that grew out of Mendocino County’s now-defunct medical marijuana permitting zip-tie program, the county’s attempt to regulate cannabis cultivation that was shut down by the federal government.

The association is now focusing its energy in Sacramento, joining cannabis activists who have, over the past year, begun intensive lobbying efforts to steer lawmakers laying the groundwork for a statewide regulatory structure toward laws friendly to small-scale growers.

“It’s divide and conquer now, with land grabbing and big business trying to take over, and we’re fighting to preserve the economy, our heritage and livelihoods,” Artman said.

Crowded field

Loud Cannabis is one of many delivery apps such as Meadow, GreenRush, Canary and Ease that some now call “Uber for weed.”

“Just look at Amazon, walk into an Apple store, and you see immediately how tech is changing the way be buy and sell things in this country, and that’s being reflected in the cannabis industry,” said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland-based Harborside, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the nation.

DeAngelo also is founder of the ArcView Group, a marijuana investment network and industry research firm that helped launched Eaze last year. The cannabis startup superstar has since attracted $11.5 million from investors, with another round of investments to be announced soon, DeAngelo said.

Eaze promises delivery in 15 minutes in about 60 cities in the Bay Area and southern California. It contracts with dispensaries that offer delivery, including the San Francisco dispensary SPARC that is run by Sebastopol city councilman Robert Jacob.

Artman said he believes Loud Cannabis stands out because it connects a network of farmers, patients, distributors and dispensaries, giving access to a greater variety of products than can be found at one dispensary. Plus, it is linked up with his just-released wholesale marijuana auction app, Big Green Exchange.

But in July, days after Loud Cannabis was recognized by CannaNews, Google Play removed the app from its store. The tech giant did not explain why, but it appeared to be a move to avoid hosting apps that encourage illegal activity.

Artman said the app remains readily available on his website.

Verifies recommendations

Artman defends the lawfulness of Loud Cannabis and said that he verifies each medical marijuana recommendation. Moreover, he said, the service does nothing more than connect distributors and patients.

“We’re just a software company. We don’t handle product, we don’t handle money,” Artman said. “We’ve created this environment for people to transact.”

Large tech companies have a history of interfering with cannabis-related businesses. For example, Apple bars most marijuana apps from its store, according to ArcView’s “State of the Legal Marijuana Markets” report for 2014 that was released earlier this year.

“The technology is a little ahead of its time, and the technology is testing and preparing itself for a future and broader market,” said Jacob, who founded Peace in Medicine dispensaries in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.

Those attitudes are likely to change.

The country’s legal cannabis market grew from $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2014, according to ArcView, attracting money from mainstream investors.

PayPal founder and billionaire Peter Thiel’s venture capital Founders Fund has invested undisclosed millions with Privateer Holdings, a holding company for cannabis-related businesses, putting itself out there as the first venture capital fund in the legal marijuana investment space.

Privateer Holdings has partnered with Bob Marley’s estate to launch a cannabis brand called Marley Natural.

Artman said he envisions Loud Cannabis eventually becoming a nationally available service.

Through his apps, growers can send product to laboratories and post the results, allowing patients to screen marijuana for pesticides and fungus.

“People want to know where their product is coming from, how it’s grown, how fresh it is, what’s contained in it,” Artman said.

“And it helps farmers build brands. We’re marching toward legalization and commercialization next year. This helps them connect with people up and down the food chain.”

Artman’s products can be found at biggreenexchange.com and tryloud.com. The Eaze delivery service is at eazeup.com

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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