Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, who worked on the regulations, said the new rules only say licensed dispensaries can do deliveries. Without follow-up legislation, "this proliferation (of delivery services) is short-lived," Bonta said. "They will have an end that is near."
Bonta recently sponsored Assembly Bill 1575, which would have expanded the definition of marijuana stores to include "non-storefront" dispensaries, such as warehouses or packing centers from which drivers could be dispatched under a state-monitored "track-and-trace" delivery system. It died in committee but is expected to be resurrected next year.
"It is our intent to provide more regulations around deliveries," Bonta said. "You will need to get a full license as a dispensary. You can't just get one for your home or your garage. That's not a dispensary. This is a professional industry. You have to have quality controls ... not just this free-for-all."
For now, Casey Knott, 30, operates his EZ Tree marijuana-delivery service out of a Sacramento-area home office. There, beneath his Board of Equalization tax certificate, he looked on as his dispatchers, Julie Rich, 36, a former bank check fraud investigator, and Michael Caballero, 31, a former Starbucks server, packaged marijuana into bags with the EZ Tree logo.
"There is no guidebook to tell you how to run a delivery service," said Knott, who left real estate to become a pot entrepreneur. "I feel like one of the pioneers. ... We can kind of write the handbook ourselves."
Knott contracts with growers he meets through Weed Maps, and obtains pot candies, foods and other products from Bay Area manufacturers such as Kiva Confections and Bhang chocolates. He equips drivers with product-filled backpacks to keep in their homes, from where they can dispatch quickly to downtown Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Antelope, Orangevale or beyond. He said the business pays sales taxes to the state.
EZ has big plans if voters pass Proposition 64.
"If it becomes legal recreationally, it's going to be insane," Knott said. "If we are allowed to keep delivering, business will triple."
Delivery issues Pot deliveries are thriving across California, despite efforts to rein them in. Los Angeles has gone to court to enforce a ban on marijuana deliveries, and yet Weed Maps still lists 90 services operating in the city. Thirty companies advertise in San Jose, which also has a ban.
The services blossomed after federal authorities in late 2011 launched raids on California dispensaries and sent dispensary landlords letters threatening property seizures. The crackdown helped officials in Sacramento County to shutter as many as 100 pot storefronts.
As the brick-and-mortar shops vanished, Knott saw a demand for deliveries. He saw little business risk.
"The startup costs were low and it was extremely safe," he said.
But as pot delivery has proliferated, safety has become an issue. In February, a medical-marijuana courier was robbed of $8,000 in cannabis products by people in Antioch who brandished a gun and also stole his wallet and car. In December, two Oceanside men were arrested on suspicion of beating a delivery driver, zapping him with a stun gun and taking a pound of marijuana.
Recently one of Knott's drivers, Caballero, was greeted outside a downtown Sacramento apartment building by a customer. As Caballero looked down at his cellphone to check the order, the man grabbed the bag containing $380 worth of weed products.
"I just froze," Caballero said. The man fled, locking a security gate behind him. Caballero called Knott, who told him to leave. They said police later took a report.
Sacramento police Sgt. Bryce Heinlein said authorities have seen no significant problems involving marijuana delivery drivers nor an uptick in crime from people targeting them. But, he said, "anytime you have something worth money, people will want it" and may use violence to get it.
Ayers of the Sacramento Area Cannabis Delivery Association said delivery services pool information through email on suspicious or problematic customers. The services' key defense against crime is having copies of clients' identification and medical marijuana recommendations. And Ayers said drivers are advised against traveling with more than $60 in cash and $300 in marijuana.
With his delivery business, Ayers calls and interviews customers before sending drivers.
"That's paramount," he said. "What is the tone of the customer? Are they angry? Are they inebriated?"
Tom Lake, 27, was neither as Caballero recently rang the bell at the gate to his midtown apartment.
"Hey, Thomas, this is Michael from EZ Tree," Caballero said as Lake, a tall man with a flowing beard, came out tapping a cane. Lake cheerfully led him inside.
"Certain people don't want delivery people coming into their house," Lake said. "My feeling is I don't want to look like I'm doing a drug deal on the corner."
Lake uses marijuana to sleep at night, a challenge for many people with blindness. It also calms him on days of navigating downtown streets and light-rail rides, after which "my anxiety can get high and I have to bring it down a notch," he said.
They settled into his apartment and chatted as Caballero filled his order of three 8-ounce bags of a strain called hashberry. Caballero sounded an upbeat note as he said goodbye. He promised Lake his next delivery was just a voice text or phone call away.