Farm-to-pipe: Petaluma distributor fills niche for medical marijuana patients
August 20, 2015 | Christopher Brown
By Eric Gneckow Petaluma360.com
As medical and recreational marijuana use becomes increasingly accepted in the United States, one Petaluma company is carving a niche as southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County’s medical marijuana provider, operating with a business model that eschews the brick-and-mortar dispensary in favor of in-home service.
Trading on the city’s name, Cannaluma Health & Wellness — the moniker is a combination of “cannabis” and “Petaluma” — has added an average of 100 clients each month since launching in early 2014, said co-founder Nicoma Campbell. The company delivers marijuana and prepared cannabis products to individuals throughout the region, all of whom join as co-owners of the company.
Cannaluma seeks to fill what Campbell described as a lack of options for medical cannabis in the broader Petaluma area, where the city’s ongoing ban on walk-up dispensaries often means an hour-long trip for caregivers or users, some of whom are very ill or undergoing end-of-life palliative care, to providers in Santa Rosa or elsewhere. The situation is even more acute in Marin, where a single county dispensary in Fairfax, said to be the oldest in the state, shut down in 2011.
“Legally-qualified patients have little choice but to travel distances outside of the city or seek out medicine from sources they know little about,” he said. “We go above and beyond to create a trusted and reliable delivery experience, starting with first contact and with each scheduled visit thereafter.”
Unlike a dispensary in which an individual can view marijuana and related products in-person, Cannaluma has no retail presence. The cooperative maintains a small office in Petaluma to consult with clients and complete required paperwork, but neither stores nor showcases any cannabis-derived products at the location, Campbell said. After verifying a recommendation from a medical provider, Cannaluma then delivers directly to clients at their residence.
It is a model seen most commonly in the rural areas of California, where brick-and-mortar dispensaries can be scarce or prohibited, said Sarah Shrader, long-time Sonoma County chair for the national medical marijuana advocacy organization, Americans for Safe Access.
“In the more rural areas in particular, delivery service may be the only thing they have access to,” she said.
Like dispensaries, such companies operate as a cooperative under state law. Clients and service providers are all co-owners, with profits returned to members in the form of perks like free products or reduced prices, she said.
It is unclear how many delivery-based medical marijuana co-ops are operating in Sonoma County, where six cities, including Petaluma, prohibit physical dispensaries. Several are listed on websites like weedmaps.com, including some listing service in Petaluma.
While delivery-type companies can be found relatively easily through the Internet, few appear to have gone as far as Cannaluma in establishing a transparent web presence. The company’s website, cannaluma.org, includes information for clients, testimonials, contact information and answers to common questions about medical marijuana.
Campbell said the distinction is significant, and that his company has been careful to operate within state and local guidelines.
“All one needs to do is simply look online or on Craigslist, and they are bound to find an advertisement for someone offering to deliver ‘pot,’” he said. “However, it’s unlikely that the person on the other side of that advertisement has undergone extensive background investigations, is a registered caregiver with the California state health department, has thorough knowledge of cannabis therapies, has previous experience in the health care industry and is involved with a collective that’s registered with the state’s department of corporations specifically as a medical marijuana organization.”
The private and low-profile nature of the delivery approach has shown to be the preferred route for some clients, particularly the elderly, Campbell said.
Yet he still lamented Petaluma’s 2007 dispensary ban, arguing that it makes it harder for Cannaluma to grow its brand locally and gain a foothold as a medical marijuana provider before the “green rush” that could come from the potential future legalization of recreational use in California.
“It’s safe to assume not all of these startups will be as responsible as others or share the same values, beliefs and passion for our town, community and citizens alike,” he said.
California laid the groundwork for medical use and the formation of cooperative medical marijuana companies with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996. The state’s policy on the issue has continued to evolve in the following years, while a patchwork of policies for individual municipalities, as well as an ongoing federal ban, has added to an already complex legal landscape for users and providers.
California is widely expected to soon follow the states of Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon that have moved to legalize recreational use, and groups are preparing a measure for the 2016 ballot. The move stands to have major implications for medical providers.
Campbell spoke of his family’s history in Petaluma, which he said included the launch of the city’s first Danish creamery in the early 1900s.
“We have very deep roots here in town,” he said. “In honoring our family’s tradition of firsts here in Petaluma, we’d love to see Cannaluma become a first as well — the first lawful storefront dispensary serving our community responsibly and with pride.”
For now, however, the ban remains in effect, which Shrader said makes delivery-based companies like Cannaluma likely the best option for users in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin.
“If you think about a person who is home-bound in Petaluma, think about getting someone to drive them to Santa Rosa to see their physician, then someone else to drive them to get their medicine. It’s a lot to ask of someone,” she said.