For most of the U.S., marijuana is an illicit pleasure. But in some states–California, Colorado, and Washington, to name a few–it’s a legal vice, provided you have a medical marijuana card. The marijuana network can be daunting for the uninitiated, with offerings like Blue Dream, Strawberry Cough, and Green Crack on dispensary menus. How are patients supposed to navigate?
That’s where WeedMaps.com comes in.
In just two years, the WeedMaps website (tagline: Find Your Bud) has grown to more than $400,000 each month in revenue and 25,000 visitors each day. The site is the brainchild of Justin Hartfield, an entrepreneur who was involved in a few failed startups before hitting the jackpot with WeedMaps. “It started in August 2008,” he says. “I was a medical marijuana patient trying to find the best dispensaries close to me”–and he couldn’t find resources on dispensaries in his area when he looked online.
Like many a successful entrepreneur, Hartfield realized there was a gap in the market. Dispensaries didn’t know what customers wanted or how much to charge, and customers didn’t know what was available and how much they should be paying. And so was born Weedmaps.com–a Yelp-style site, with reviews and listings for dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal (though a clear majority of the listings are in California).
At first, Hartfield offered dispensaries the opportunity to display listings for free. “We wanted to give dispensaries business before we asked for money,” he says. “We had a tiny audience at first. One day we had 12 people, the next day we had 24. By the end of 2008, we had 1,500 people a day.”
In January 2010, WeedMaps started charging for listings. Rates start at $295 per month, and climb to more than $1,000, depending on how extensive the listing is–the more you pay, the more you can list about your dispensary. It’s not a cheap service, but it’s well worth it for dispensaries. Hartfield says that at least 85% of all dispensaries are on WeedMaps, and for good reason; the site signs up 300 new users and receives 250 dispensary reviews each day.
A quick search for my nearest dispensary–Medithrive–yields a dizzying amount of information about the dispensary’s offerings (Not So Virgin Olive Oil, anyone?) and prices. WeedMaps users have provided 121 reviews of the store, and dozens of pictures show off Medithrive’s wares. With so much information available, it’s not a stretch to understand why medical marijuana patients would visit WeedMaps before every trip to the dispensary.
It’s also not a stretch to think that WeedMaps is going to have some competition. “A few sites have popped up recently exactly replicating our business model,” admits Hartfield. “But there’s no doubt we’re the largest, we’re the oldest.” Indeed, the fast followers–Weedtracker.com, Dispensaryguide.com–currently pale by comparison.
Nevertheless, potential competition is one of the reasons WeedMaps isn’t stopping at listings and reviews. The site recently added a strain exchange (a stock market for marijuana strains). Hartfield says that a second version of the exchange will feature a predictive modeling engine that can tell you whether to “buy now or hold off until the future.”
In the meantime, WeedMaps must deal with the same problem that any Yelp-like service has to face: moderating comments to weed out bogus reviews (positive reviews of your own dispensary, negative reviews of your competitors), and accusations of favoritism towards dispensaries that pay more for their listings. But the site is adamant: “Reviews of WeedMaps sponsors and non-sponsors are treated identically and any complaints are handled by the moderation staff…Owners shouldn’t sing the praises of their own businesses or bash their competitors and users shouldn’t comment on their current or former employers. If the author’s authenticity is in question due to limited activity and/or inconsistent activity, the moderation staff can un-publish.” Weedmaps currently has 12 employees, and is hiring more.
Hartfield is even branching out into online dating. A companion site, WeedList (think Craigslist for potheads), contains a section for users to “find 420 love.” A sample ad: “Would like to get together with a female bud connossieur, and get to know each other from a different perspective with 420, never realized how many females are closet smokers.”
WeedMaps itself might be bought soon enough–the site is currently in talks to be acquired by a publicly-traded company, according to Hartfield–a L’Oreal subsidiary called LC Luxuries Ltd, which currently sells beauty products. Whether the parent company would balk at the sale is an open question. On the other hand, with a growth rate of approximately 20% each month, it may seem more surprising that WeedMaps hasn’t already been snapped up.
[Listing Photo by Laurie Avocado]