With the increasing number of states approving marijuana use for medical purposes (and the recent proposed legislation to legalize the drug entirely in California), it’s no surprise that startups are popping up looking to capitalize on the growing number of patients looking for legal marijuana dispensaries. One of these is WeedMaps, a site that aspires to be a Yelp for cannabis dispensaries in California and other states. The site offers a Google Maps mashup that pinpoints the locations of the closest dispensaries in a user’s vicinity. At this point the vast majority of clubs on WeedMaps are located in California, but the site is slowly adding locations in other states.
Aside from the proximity map, WeedMaps also offers reviews for some clubs, though it looks like many of them haven’t seen any submissions yet. Co-founder Justin Hartfield says that the site has been seeing an average of 48% growth per month since launching in July 2008, with several thousand registered patients. Hartfield also notes that since Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government would no longer raid dispensaries, traffic has seen a 35% boost. To monetize, WeedMaps is using standard advertising along with a list of featured dispensaries, using a vistors’ IP address to recommend sponsored locations within a 10 mile raidus. Hartfield says that the site is also considering a buyers’ club, offering discounts at partner clubs in exchange for a low monthly or annual membership fee.
One of the issues that will face WeedMaps is that Yelp apparently already does offer reviews of these Cannabis Clubs (in fact, it has an entire category dedicated to the topic, which you can find here). That said, users may well be interested in getting their reviews from a more specialized site, and employing the aforementioned membership deal could also help differentiate WeedMaps.
Marijuana is big business, worth as much as 14 billion dollars a year in California (some have called it the state’s largest cash crop). But it’s also illegal at the federal level, has a relatively small legal market outside of California, and comes with a myriad of social taboos. Hartfield says that the startup is on the lookout for venture funding, but that it will “take a special kind of VC”. I suspect that most VCs won’t go near the site with a 10-foot pole, but we’ve seen startups like the Zivity (an adult-oriented photography site) overcome social taboos in the past to land major funding rounds.