By Arielle Lusardi, BA, JD/MPH (’17)
As state medical marijuana laws proliferate throughout the country, companies are trying to secure their own piece of the action. In July 2014, a San Francisco-based start-up company, called Eaze, launched a mobile application that facilitates the delivery of medical marijuana in California.
Here’s how it works: To register for the service, patients must submit their medical marijuana identification numbers or a recommendation from their physician to ensure that they are qualified to legally use medical marijuana. Once a user’s “qualifying patient” status has been verified, a process that can take less than 5 minutes, the user may select from a variety of strains and quantities to be delivered directly to the user’s home, “in just two taps of a finger.” After the patient selects the type and quantity of medical marijuana, the service pinpoints the delivery location and provides an estimated delivery time, similar to the technology used by the driver service, “Uber.” The company’s delivery service is comprised of drivers, called “caregivers” by Eaze, who must also be qualifying patients to allow them to carry up to 8 ounces of medical marijuana legally. The average amount of marijuana purchased is one eighth of an ounce, allowing drivers to complete an average of 64 deliveries and minimizing the delivery timeframe. The company hopes to further expand its business model to medical marijuana markets in Washington state and Colorado.
While this service would provide marijuana to patients suffering from debilitating diseases, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, or epilepsy, it is not without its legal implications. The company refers to its drivers as “caregivers.” Under California’s unique medical marijuana law, patients and caregivers are not required to register with the state in order to receive the protections granted to individuals with caregiver status. Instead, to qualify for protections, the individual identified as a caregiver under the law must provide the patient with care beyond merely the provision of marijuana.
As these drivers are not providing care in addition to providing the medical marijuana itself, they are not entitled to protections granted to “caregivers.”
Additionally, the company uses patients as its drivers; however, this does not necessarily protect the drivers from arrest or prosecution. Under California law, marijuana cooperatives/collectives are the only recognized organizations that can distribute medical marijuana other than the patients and caregivers cultivating on their own. The cooperatives and collectives must be comprised of qualifying patients and their caregivers and they may only distribute medical marijuana to members of the cooperative or collective. Dispensaries are not recognized under California’s medical marijuana law and thus are not subject to its protections. If the drivers were obtaining the marijuana from a collective/cooperative, of which they were members, and distributing the marijuana to patients who are also members, this operation could function within the law. However, patients providing other patients with medical marijuana not obtained through the collective/cooperative membership model do not fall within the protections of California’s medical marijuana law. As a result, this application exposes its drivers, dispensaries, and users to potential criminal liability.
Providing patients with access to medical marijuana from the convenience of their homes is certainly an interesting concept. Due to the legal issues surrounding who can purchase, transport and distribute medical marijuana, it remains to be seen whether this model will be successful.