Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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Nevada’s recreational marijuana industry ramping up delivery services to meet demand

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Christopher DeVargas

A customer receives a delivery of medical marijuana at her home July 12. Marijuana delivery drivers in Nevada may transport up to 10 ounces at a time. Essence is the only dispensary currently handling its own deliveries, though owners of others hope to offer the service.

The front door to a house in a Summerlin subdivision opens, and Marie Shannon smiles and welcomes Quan Chanthavong into her home. The 34-year-old delivery man drove 12 miles from Essence Cannabis Dispensary on Tropicana Avenue near Jones Boulevard to serve Shannon, 63, with a half-ounce of Jack Flash indica flower she ordered over the phone the evening before.

Shannon, a medical marijuana cardholder, hands Chanthavong $102 in cash — $100 for the product and a $2 tip — as she takes the small glass jar and thanks him for her medicine.

“I don’t want to drive across the city; it’s just so much more convenient for it to come to us,” says Shannon, who makes pot brownies and infused butter and oil to treat chronic migraine headaches and back pain. “The plant takes the pain away while allowing my head to still function.”

The stop at Shannon’s house is one of three drop-offs for Chanthavong that afternoon, all to residences.

RISKS WITHIN THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK?

Essence dispensary owner Armen Yemenidjian says demand for deliveries has spiked since July 1, when cannabis became legal for recreational use in Nevada.

About 15 of Essences’s 20 or so daily deliveries are placed by medical marijuana patients, but Yemenidjian said he was staffing for as many as 75 to 80 daily deliveries by the end of the summer with an eye to the continuing development of the recreational market.

“A growing number of recreational buyers just like the convenience, but some of our medical patients are sick and physically can’t make it to the dispensary,” Yemenidjian said. “At the end of the day, we’re in the service industry and are going to make sure people can get their cannabis however they want.”

Founder Tim Conder of Reno-based Blackbird distributing company is delivering weed from 15 dispensaries to customers’ homes across Nevada, and he aspires to grow his business to 30 total dispensaries by the end of August.

Once as small as three employees serving about a dozen homes under the state’s medical model, Blackbird has grown over the past two years to 30 employees making 2,000 weekly deliveries. He expects to double the number of drivers by the end of next month.

“Every dispensary has at least quadrupled in sales volume, some have gone up 10 times, easily,” Conder said. “Nevada has done a solid job protecting the public while making it possible for operators to make recreational sales.”

For $1 per mile, with a minimum order of $10 online or by phone, Blackbird transports the marijuana anywhere within a 25-mile radius of a dispensary. Company drivers are in unmarked cars and wear no uniforms, and both state and local authorities are notified via email each time a driver embarks on a delivery. Police also are given access to Blackbird’s delivery software, Conder said, which tracks the location of a driver’s car at all times.

Marijuana delivery drivers in Nevada are allowed to transport up to 10 ounces at once and make multiple deliveries per trip, according to regulations by the Nevada Department of Taxation. But Blackbird drivers carry only enough weed — up to 1 ounce of flower or 1/8 ounce of THC equivalent in edibles or concentrates — for one delivery at a time, Conder said.

“It’s not the most efficient way to operate, but we want to protect our drivers in the event of any criminal activity,” he said. “Hopefully as this industry takes off, we see more measures developed for driver safety.”

Conder and Yemenidjian said they shipped only to established residential addresses, avoiding the Strip, locations with gaming licenses, public places like parks and schools, and “open-air” locales such as parking lots and alleyways.

Blackbird partners with most dispensaries across the state for deliveries. Essence is the only retailer handling its own, though other Las Vegas dispensary owners hope to offer the service soon, including Frank Hawkins of Nevada Wellness Center.

“It gives customers an option because we won’t have to charge as many fees,” Hawkins said. “It’s part of being more vertically integrated and keeps us close with our customers.”

LAW-BREAKING OPPORTUNISTS CROP UP

While legal weed deliveries are becoming more widespread, a Metro Police lieutenant said black market services have found their way into the booming business.

Twenty-eight illegal delivery services, some as large as 10 employees, have been shut down since Jan. 1, when recreational marijuana became legal for use and possession. Metro Lt. Sean Toman says such outfits often are run by people with gang affiliations and lengthy criminal histories who advertise on Craigslist, Facebook and Backpage. It’s harder to track those operating behind encrypted mobile apps such as Radiate, Whisper and Grindr, but police are making frequent busts. Toman said some companies were caught illegally delivering up to 10 pounds of weed per day to “several hundred” valley residents.

“The people who set these business up and run them know unequivocally that what they’re doing is 100 percent illegal,” Toman said.

He said an increase in legal delivery services would help wipe out law-breaking opportunists. He advised consumers placing orders to purchase only from licensed dispensaries, either at the storefront, on the dispensary website or through its direct phone number. It should be easier to spot legitimate operations once more companies launch fleets.

“It’ll be very obvious,” Toman said. “Order directly from the dispensary site, not Craigslist.”

Although multiple Las Vegas dispensaries were looted earlier this year, no news has broken of robberies of legal marijuana delivery services since they kicked off for the medical industry in 2015 (Toman said he did not recall any such robberies in the valley). But several have happened in California, as reported in San Diego, Antioch and Hanford.

Editor’s note: Brian Greenspun, the CEO, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, has an ownership interest in Essence Cannabis Dispensary.

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