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California Cannabis Website Invokes CDA

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 15, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The roll-out on California's recreational marijuana laws is a bit like rolling a joint. It's not as easy as it looks.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control, the state entity that oversees the new marijuana market, is trying to weed out some trouble spots. The bureau recently sent a letter to one of the bigger players in the market, saying it was advertising unlicensed pot growers.

Weedmaps, an online directory of marijuana businesses, responded that it was not subject to the agency. Tommy Chong, the marijuana activist and comedy actor, couldn't have said it better.

Communications Decency Act

Lori Ajax, the cannabis bureau chief, told Weedmaps last month to stop "engaging in activity that violates state cannabis laws." But Doug Francis and Chris Beals (not to be confused with Cheech and Chong) said the company is not licenced by the bureau.

They also said the company is protected as an "interactive computer service" under the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet publishers such as Facebook, Twitter and others that host consumer-generated content. The law has even protected controversial companies, like Backpage, which publishes classified ads for sex services.

The Weedmaps leaders noted that the bureau does not "accurately" match license numbers with marijuana businesses on its own website. They also pointed out that other companies, such as "Google, Yelp, Bing, Craigslist and dozens of other 'cannabis finder' sites" do not list license numbers.

"We would be happy to sit with you and other members of the internet and publishing industry to work towards a solution on this front," they wrote.

Right On, Marijuana

Jeffrey Kosseff, a law professtor at the United States Naval Academy and expert on the CDA, told Ars Technica that Weedmaps was right on the law.

"My initial impression is that, under even a very limited reading of Section 230, it is difficult to see how Weedmaps could be held liable for these ads," he said.

Joe Devlin, Sacramento's chief of cannabis policy, had a different opinion. He told the Sacramento Bee that Weedmaps' advertisers were illegal retailers.

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