Weed People: Weedmaps CEO Justin Hartfield

Marijuana legalization has seen the rise of an entire industry, not just a marketplace for weed itself and the accessories to consume it, but a new ilk of media that recognizes the broadness of pot enthusiasm and provides stoners with the type of content they are looking for. Among countless new websites, perhaps only a few will survive into the mainstream years of American cannabis. In this regard, Weedmaps is one to place your chips on. 

Weedmaps — a listing site for dispensaries and cannabis sources across the country — provides a fundamental utility that is set to grow and begin crossing internal borders as the wave of legalization continues. Company CEO Justin Hartfield recognized a gap in the market and decided he’d be the guy to fill it, establishing one of the strongest concepts for online cannabis engagement to date. 

I recently visited Weedmaps HQ and spent the morning dabbing with company CEO Justin Hartfield. Here, he describes how he went from being a regular, college-aged pothead to one of the first magnates of legal weed, presiding over Weemaps as well as the newest addition to their family of sites, Marijuana.com

Describe your involvement with cannabis in all aspects, personal, professional, etc.

I’ve been involved with marijuana since my first bowl out of a Graphix bong approximately 18 years ago. I will always remember that feeling of being stoned for the first time as if I just removed a large piece of food stuck between my teeth that I had forgotten was there for the previous 12 years. But I didn’t start to get involved in the actual business of marijuana until I was 22 years old and obtained my first legal medical marijuana card in California. After I got my MMJ card in 2007, I couldn’t help but try to find all of the best dispensaries in California. But since there was no mapping software, it was quite difficult to find them all, so the original Weedmaps.com was really born out of necessity. After a few years operating Weedmaps, I bought the web’s oldest marijuana forum and cannabis news site, Marijuana.com for $4.2m. Some of the posts on the site go back as far as 1997!

State-level legalization in Washington and Colorado has increased visitor traffic to Weedmaps in those states by nearly 40 percent. CO and WA were already popular destinations on the site, but with marijuana now legal for adult-use the traffic has exploded. Weedmaps is also seeing heavy traffic increases (>20 percent) in states adjacent to CO and WA. Traffic from the city of Chicago has also seen significant increases since January 1st, 2014 — presumably from Chicagoans driving south to Colorado to pick up their legal ounce of cannabis. We’re also seeing increased activity in New York after becoming 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana in July.

What are some of the victories/failures of state-level legalization in your area?

I think it’s clear, that more than six months after Colorado became the first state to legalize adult-use marijuana, that the sky will remain in its atmosphere and will not crash down upon Earth in a deadly fireball. Taxes are being generated at a fantastic pace. Arrests are down. DUIs are not exploding in number. Children and minors are not walking into dispensaries and buying weed. Previously abandoned buildings and retail locations are finally being restored and leased again. Since advertising is restricted on signage and billboards, there’s not even the tackiness that accompanied the Broadway Avenue sign twirlers during the medical marijuana dispensary heydays of 2011.

I think an area that the Colorado MMED can improve upon is more stricter and defined requirements for labeling the potency of edibles. NYT Columnist Marueen Dowd famously got ‘too high’ on a legal CO edible which unfortunately could have been avoided with clearer packaging. Another area I think CO can improve upon is to explicitly allow for the public consumption of marijuana. Public consumption of alcohol accounts for more than 40 percent of total sales, so obviously this is a huge area of value creation left to be explored.

Do you believe the federal government is making progress towards decriminalization or legalization?

Yes. We’ve already seen a Republican Congressman, Dana Rorbacher, successfully pass a House amendment that would cut off DEA spending in states with legalized weed. Dana’s tried to pass this amendment for the previous three years in Congress, to no avail, so this dramatic change should be taken as an extremely positive step toward legalization by our Congressional Overlords. However, that being said, it remains to be seen what the Senate is going to think of all this.

I would predict that marijuana will be completely descheduled in the next 5-10 years in the United States. (Hillary Clinton’s second term?) I think the EU, South America and other places around the world will start to think about legalization much more sincerely after the US comes around. I don’t see a lot of movement in Europe without a major action of Drug War de-escalation, with the exception of Spain.

What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on a state level?

With victories every election cycle, marijuana reformers have been incredibly successful on the state (and local) levels. We’re going to see adult-use ballot initiatives in Alaska and Oregon this year, in addition to a citizen-sponsored initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. There was a rash of CBD-only bills passed in a handful of conservative states like KY and WI, which was both heartening and disappointing. Heartening in that finally legislators are listening to patients who want this medicine, but disappointing in that they refused to allow for any THC-based medicine. Scientists have known for a while about the ‘Entourage Effect’ and how THC in small doses helps activate the CBD. A missed opportunity, but I don’t think that means the end of discussion for medical or even legalized marijuana in those states.

A national level?

The biggest challenge facing legalization on the national level used to be bad journalism. With the advent of the internet and the democratization of media, this has changed for the better. Now, someone can get real science-based facts about marijuana at their fingertips in seconds (in addition to the government propaganda from NIDA and DEA). I feel the biggest challenge are politicians who’ve yet to adapt to their changing constituent base. But I think that will change too as marijuana becomes more acceptable. Once Gallup and other reputable polling companies are consistently showing 60%-65% of Americans support legalization, then I see big changes coming quickly because it will be the only politically tenable position for a politician.

1 comment
  1. okay CEO is out that’s the first step, next Weedmaps needs to clear the house Elon Musk style (at least the revenue and monetization team). I’m sorry to say this directly, but if you have #1 site in the category and have no clue how to monetize all that traffic then you and your entire leadership team simply doesn’t know how to make money online and should not be leading an online company.

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