Medical Marijuana’s Stealth Providers

Taking delivery service Playbud and Premium Jack Herer for a spin.

This fall, the California Supreme Court will likely rule that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal in the state, but that cities and counties can ban them. This prediction comes from attorney Joe Elford — chief counsel for the patient lobby Americans for Safe Access and a veteran California Supreme Court lawyer who has filed numerous amicus briefs on the topic of medical cannabis. And if Elford is right, California patients can expect even more low-profile, mobile dispensaries to roll into their neighborhoods.

Many cities and counties have already banned storefronts, either due to local pot opposition or because of nuisance complaints for traffic, trash, loitering, and smells. Meanwhile, delivery-only dispensaries are lawfully and stealthily providing patients with continued access to the drug. In fact, in a sign of the times, some battleground cities have banned storefronts, but permit delivery services.

In June, delivery services swept three of the seven awards at the annual High Times Medical Cannabis Cup. East Bay start-up Hills Farmacy won two awards, for Best Edible and Highest CBD. Tea House Collective of Humboldt and Playbud of Oakland also took home big wins. The awards offer more proof of the rising popularity of delivery-service companies, which can dodge local bans and avoid federal attention. “It’s definitely becoming more and more prevalent,” said Mike, operator of Playbud, which opened just two months ago. “It’s out of sight, out of mind.”

After we agreed to withhold Mike’s last name, he agreed to meet us at 9 a.m. on a weekday in a San Francisco coffee shop to talk about his collective. Mike is just a few years out of college with a degree in finance. He started Playbud because “the economy wasn’t doing me very well,” he said, and he wanted to move out of his parents’ house.

At the same time, he and some Oakland growers were fed up with visiting storefront dispensaries, either to sell or purchase physician-recommended marijuana. The hassle of security, waiting in line, and snobby budtenders turned him off, he said. His grower friends weren’t getting treated right, either. “Dispensaries would pay our growers on consignment — if they got paid at all,” he said.

So Mike and his friends co-founded the nonprofit collective Playbud, which delivers primarily to East Bay patients. The start-up carries about ten strains, which patients can easily order online. After Playbud staff verifies a doctor’s recommendation, they usually call for confirmation and agree on a pickup time (before 7 p.m.) and location. Playbud will deliver to San Francisco for a minimum order of $100, but the collective’s focus is on the East Bay, where it delivers from Richmond to Union City, and as far east as Livermore.

More hip-hop than hippie, Playbud is in love with schwag, offering branded lighters, rolling papers, grinder cards, and T-shirts. “Everything we do is to the max,” Mike said. “People love it.”

It’s as if Aziz Ansari’s character in Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford, opened a club.

But Playbud isn’t just hype. It offers some of the best weed in the Bay Area, and its journey to a Cup victory actually started two years ago when the collective’s growers obtained the Jack Herer strain. Playbud’s growers started cultivating “regular” Jack Herer in Oakland warehouses, but then team members refined their use of nutrients, lighting, and scheduling.

Since 1999, Jack’s smell, taste, and effect have won over Cup judges time and again, Mike said. Jack Herer’s neither skunky nor funky, but rather sweet like white sugar, with a hint of pine. Amazingly, Jack offers energy to those on the go, yet relaxes the sedentary.

About 23 clubs entered pot in the Best Sativa category, and High Times‘ fifteen judges scored each contestant for look, smell, taste, and effect. When those scores were combined with independent lab scores, Playbud’s 19-percent THC Premium Jack Herer took home the gold. “The Cup offers prestige, that’s the biggest thing — being a part of that elite membership,” Mike said. “Right now we can say that we have the best Jack in the Bay.”

An average of five new patients sign up for the delivery service every day, Mike said. He moved out of his parents’ house and he’s not worried about making money anymore. “Basically, it’s reenergized me. It’s a good feeling. You get to provide for people who need something that makes them happy and it eases pain,” he said. “It’s just really fulfilling. It’s more fulfilling that I thought it was going to be. This provided me an opportunity to feel like I’m a part of something.”

Playbud’s growers are now working to perfect their strain of Headband (a mix of Deadhead OG and Chem Dog) into a Premium Headband for future cups, while Mike is working on expanding Playbud’s delivery footprint.

From the flatlands of Oakland to the well-to-do neighborhoods of Lafayette, delivery services are meeting a growing market without attracting attention from detractors, Mike said. “A lot of our patients are older people that just don’t want people to know they need to use cannabis,” he said.


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