Ordering an eighth of marijuana from Strawberry Fields dispensary to your doorstep could soon be as easy as ordering a pizza.
On July 20, the shop became the Mile High City’s first to receive a permit to deliver cannabis products. It’s working with a company called Doobba, the city’s first licensed delivery service provider, to offer customers a new way to buy.
Rich Kwesell, co-owner of Strawberry Fields, expects both medical and recreational deliveries to begin in August, acknowledging there are logistical details to work through before launch. But for consumers, he doesn’t expect much to change.
Those looking to order delivery will use Strawberry Fields’ website and digital menu to add products to a cart much like they do now. The difference will be that they don’t have to pick up their order in-person.
Being the first — and so far only — weed store licensed for delivery is “an incredible honor and an enormous responsibility,” Kwesell said.
Since the Denver City Council approved ordinances to allow for cannabis delivery in April, three companies have applied for licenses to offer the service. Doobba was the first to receive its license in late July. Applications for the others, High Demand Delivery and Grn Bus, are still pending, said Eric Escudero, director of communications for Denver Excise and Licensing.
The delivery companies operate differently — Grn Bus and Doobba, for example, will have consumer-facing platforms that connect buyers to dispensaries, while High Demand Delivery does not — but the common thread that ties them together is they all meet the state’s definition of social equity.
Until 2027, Denver licenses for delivery businesses are available exclusively to social equity applicants, meaning those who live in an area of the city disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, whose income is less than 50% of the state median or who have a cannabis-related arrest or conviction in their record or on a family member’s record. After three years, dispensaries that do not meet the social equity criteria are eligible to self-distribute.
Why is that important?
“We took a hard look at who has benefited from legalization. Unfortunately, a select group of individuals who are connected or have the financial means have benefited in the past seven years,” Escudero said. “We’re determined to bring more equitable access to the industry to deliver on the full promise of cannabis legalization.”
After Ari Cohen, co-founder of Doobba, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute more than two decades ago, it was something he had to continually address in job interviews. A classically trained chef, Cohen once applied to work in an airport and needed to collect “every single piece of paper” related to his past convictions to provide to the Transportation Security Administration, he said.
Cohen ended up getting that job and later worked for an edibles manufacturing company, but worries about how his past would affect his future lingered.
“We weren’t sure if he’d ever have another job,” said Karina Cohen, Ari’s wife and now business partner. “It was a big to do and super, super stressful. Every day you could see the shadow over Ari, like, is this going to go through?”
While Denver recently opened applications for several different business licenses and is allowing new pot shop locations to open for the first time since 2016, delivery is the most promising avenue for folks systematically excluded from Colorado’s green rush, said Sarah Woodson, chief compliance officer with High Demand Delivery. Woodson, who helped develop the city’s social equity program, said it is fundamentally flawed because it’s nearly impossible to find an available space for a store or hospitality license.
“A group of social equity people that have been looking for stores and licenses, we’re keeping tabs and collectively we probably have over 100 ‘no’s. The places just don’t work,” she said. “And because of that, delivery will most likely be the first go-to opportunity because otherwise you don’t have any opportunity.”
And there’s another caveat: There needs to be buy-in from dispensaries.
In Denver, a city with nearly 200 places to buy cannabis, five dispensaries so far applied to offer delivery, Escudero said. In order to be able to deliver, dispensaries first need a permit to do so and then, as previously mentioned, to contract with a licensed delivery company. Unless other shops get on board soon, the social equity program and its participants could be set up for failure, Woodson said.
“What you’re asking someone to do is to create another business model that fundamentally goes against their business model for people that essentially could be their competition,” she said. “So it’s a very tricky thing to do and business-wise, for a lot of people, it won’t make sense.”
Woodson hopes dispensaries won’t wait until the three-year exclusivity expires to launch their own delivery programs, especially considering the steep startup costs. Delivery companies are required to own a fleet of cars equipped with security cameras and product storage, as well as hire their own employees licensed by the Marijuana Enforcement Division. (As Woodson puts it, there’s no “Uber model” for cannabis delivery.)
And that’s all before considering technology-related investments.
“It takes nerves of steel,” said Chad Compton, who cofounded Grn Bus with his cousin Alain Lahoud. “We’re not funded by a large corporation. It’s really just my cousin and I scraping together what we can to make this happen.”
Still, Lahoud believes the benefits will be significant for patients who may be unable to leave their homes and customers looking for the convenience of delivery. And the opportunity to re-enter the industry is not one he takes for granted.
In 2017, Lahoud, who was growing marijuana as a caregiver, was arrested and charged for cultivating too many plants, along with possession of concentrates.
“I definitely fell into a thing where I wasn’t able to find a job,” Lahoud said. “Now that the city of Denver has given me a door opening with social equity, it’s enlightened me and motivated me more to move forward and help people along the way who were in the same situation as myself.”
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