App by Sacramento State graduate brings medical marijuana to your door

Ed Fletcher, Sacramento Bee

A Sacramento Web developer is taking online orders for medical marijuana using a new mobile application that he hopes will make purchasing it more convenient.

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“It’s kind of like a marketplace,” said Stephen Foung, the creator of CleverTree. He compared the app to other on-demand mobile services, such as Uber (transportation), AirBnB (lodging) and Drizly (alcohol).

While CleverTree isn’t the only application offering medical marijuana delivery, it is believed to be the only one delivering within the Sacramento region.

Top Med Delivery advertises medical marijuana delivery in the South Bay area. Meanwhile, a spokesman for NestDrop, which was forced by court order to stop delivering marijuana in Los Angeles in November, said the company plans to re-enter the medical marijuana business outside of Los Angeles in the near future. It continues to offer alcohol delivery in the Los Angeles region.

Foung, 27, said he plans to start with Sacramento before expanding to other markets.

By partnering with existing mobile marijuana delivery services – locally with Sacramento Confidential – he’s able to establish a service, without the hassle of supplying the product or handling the delivery. Foung began taking orders late last month.

Foung said he hopes to make the case to existing delivery services that he can help them fulfill more prescriptions through his app than can be filled though phone orders or online and walk-in traffic. The process starts with someone manually verifying that the customer’s pot card is current. Patients can then connect to a dispensary, place an order, and get an estimated delivery time. Customers can pay online or pay the driver. CleverTree takes a service fee on top of the delivering dispensary’s cost.

It’s a big market. In 2009, the state Board of Equalization estimated total revenue from medicinal marijuana was between $700 million and $1.3 billion, resulting in $59 million to $109 million in sales tax revenue annually.

“Marijuana is an industry which is gaining greater and greater acceptance in the United States,” Foung said. “Although this is a rapidly growing market, it has largely been untouched by technology, due to its ambiguous legal status.”

While medical marijuana was legalized in California in 2006, until recently, the federal government continued to enforce federal statutes outlawing it. Marijuana has been used to treatment symptoms associated with epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other serious illnesses.

Kirk Uhler, executive director of the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance, offered cautious support, calling the app an example of technology moving faster than government.

Uhler said it is a “wonderful thing that technology and innovation” will find ways to improve lives. “More power to them,” he said, referring to all such services, so long as they are compliant with state, federal and local laws.

“I would strongly encourage them (CleverTree) to check in” with local officials to ensure they’re not breaking any laws, Uhler said.

A spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department declined to offer an assessment of CleverTree’s legality.

Foung said he’s “very confident” that his operation is legal.

“We are just a technology platform for dispensaries who already provide delivery to their patients,” Foung said.

“The whole country and especially the state is moving to the point where marijuana will be legal and accepted,” Foung said. “We’re only improving the (existing) medical marijuana network.”

Foung had planned to go to law school, but decided business school was a better fit. He got his MBA from Babson College in Massachusetts in August and quickly began working on CleverTree, programming it in the emerging “Ruby On Rail” language.

He developed the business while working in the Hacker Lab co-working space with his business partner, Pedro Rivas.

Foung recently spoke to students on the Sacramento State campus – where he earned his undergraduate degree in 2012 – about the new service. It wasn’t a tough sell, he said.

“Everyone we showed it to thought it was really cool,” said Foung, who said his app also earned his mother’s support.

“It’s just a really convenient process.”

Beyond being cool, such a service is sometimes necessary, said Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access.

“There are some patients who need it. It’s not just people who want it,” Duncan said. “There are people for whom traveling for marijuana is difficult.”