Brian Reichle couldn't have gotten a pepperoni pizza much faster. Needing to replenish his stash of marijuana one recent afternoon, the Los Angeles resident dialed Speed Weed. Within the hour, a driver arrived with a white paper bag carrying a gram of cannabis, 10 joints and a handful of pot-infused candies and cookies.
"They come to my house, and they're in and out," said Reichle, 39, a comedian who spends about $100 a week on medical marijuana. "I shouldn't have to go to a store."
Once a small, word-of-mouth phenomenon, mobile marijuana businesses now number in the hundreds across Southern California. Weed on wheels offers patients convenience and owners a cheaper alternative to running a brick-and-mortar shop. Delivery services see huge potential for growth.
"I still believe 75 percent of marijuana patients don't know delivery is a thing," said Speed Weed owner A.J. Gentile, 42. "It's safer to engage this way. You don't have to go to a sketchy dispensary. That's why we get so many female customers."
The proliferation of delivery services is fueled in part by city efforts to reduce the number of dispensaries. About 200 have closed in L.A. since voters approved Proposition D last year. Under the measure, dispensaries and their landlords can be prosecuted if the shops aren't properly registered or if they do not operate a legal distance from public parks, schools, child-care centers and other facilities.
As a result, the owners of closed stores sitting on piles of unsold inventory figure they have little choice but to start a delivery service.
California cities have mostly allowed the services to operate freely. State medical marijuana laws don't mention delivery services, which, like dispensaries, require patients to join as members of a collective.
Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, said cities should consider supporting the business model. Delivery services, he said, help eliminate unwanted storefronts.
"Storefronts are a pain," Kleiman said. "Do you want a weed store in your neighborhood?"
After registering and showing a doctor's recommendation, Speed Weed customers order off the company's website or call its delivery line. The L.A. firm has up to 25 drivers and several offices across the region, allowing for quick deliveries.
The company was founded in 2011 after owner Gentile studied operation manuals for Domino's Pizza, Papa John's Pizza and FedEx. He learned how to build a network of hubs to limit the amount of marijuana or cash that any one driver carries, a precaution against robbery.