A marijuana website published a report on Friday with a bombshell claim: CVS Pharmacy is entering the cannabis business, and in a big way.
In fact, according to Cannabis.net, the drug-store giant has applied for more than 300 marijuana-cultivation permits in California—which would make CVS the biggest player in the state’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry.
The site’s report, titled “Big Pharma Roars – CVS Pharmacy Applies For Almost 300 Cannabis Grow Licenses,” has one major flaw: It’s not true. It is demonstrably fake news.
A quick look at California’s database of cannabis-cultivation permits reveals that CVS Pharmacy does not have any marijuana-growing licenses.
CVS does have “nursery permits,” and they are for growing flowers—although the kind you buy on Valentine’s Day, not the kind you smoke.
Published under the byline of “DanaSmith,” Cannabis.net’s erroneous post appears based on a misinterpretation of California marijuana law.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) does regulate marijuana cultivation, but lists cannabis cultivation permits under a different portal than the one cited by Cannabis.net.
An examination of the CDFA nursery permits cited by Cannabis.net shows them to be licenses for “sales outlets which has no growing grounds except for small areas devoted to the production of plants for local distribution, and those producing less than $1,000.”
Those plants, according to CVS’s actual licenses, are “Decorative plants, foliage, or florists potted plants, including orchids, etc.”
Cannabis.net did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent via its Facebook page and through a contact form on its website.
The website is owned by a Massachusetts-based company called Evergreen Buzz LLC.
Reached via cellphone on Monday while traveling in Maine, Curt Dalton, Evergreen Buzz’s managing director, did not immediately accept fault or share plans to retract or correct the post—and instead pinned blame for any misinformation on a High Times staffer.
Dalton said that he’d been sent a link shared on the LinkedIn page of Ethan Bloomfield, whose bio says he is a senior brand manager for High Times.
Bloomfield did indeed post a video last week, in which an unidentified male scrolls through the CDFA nursery list and discovers the CVS nursery permits.
“Damn, homie,” the voice says. “This is bananas. Hello, big pharma.”
“Big Pharms makes its first move!!!!” Bloomfield writes in his post. “Unbelievable…this video is SHOCKING!”
Dalton sent the link to a Cannabis.net writer, who “vetted” the faulty information and then posted the story, he told Marijuana Moment.
“It wasn’t us who came up with the idea,” Dalton said. “I don’t know more about it.”
When pressed, Dalton seemed to indicate Cannabis.net might change the post if presented with accurate information–but still deflected blame to High Times.
“Oh sure, if the High Times post is not correct and your story is, we would put up a retraction and explain what happened or delete the article,” he said in a text message. “I just dont want to delete it and make it look like we are hiding from a mistake or not taking responsibility.”
Bloomfield and Cannabis.net appear to be not the only marijuana industry players fooled. The video was also liked by a publisher of Sensi magazine and shared by the Stanford University-educated CEO of a Portland-based cannabis brand.
A spokeswoman for CVS Health, CVS Pharmacy’s parent company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This post will be updated if a response is received.
At the same time, Cannabis.net’s claim that “Big Pharma” is eyeing the cannabis space is accurate—if old news, and not quite the same as claimed.
British-based drug company GW Pharmaceuticals has patented several marijuana-based medicines—and grows an awful lot of cannabis in central England to make them—and American-based companies are working on cannabinoid-based medicines.
Cannabis.net bills itself as a “lean startup” and “the premier global social networking site for the legalized cannabis industry.”
The website’s main feature appears to be a Google-map based “cannabis dispensaries, doctors, lawyers & businesses”-finder—services that bigger players like Weedmaps and Leafly also provide—but the website also publishes “valuable information, resources and guidance for everything cannabis related,” it claims.
It appears any damage done by the disinformation might be limited. As of Monday, the Facebook post claiming CVS was in the weed game had been shared 50 times. According to a counter on Cannabis.net’s website, the post itself had been viewed roughly 13,000 times.
That’s more engagement than some recent posts, but not quite viral—likely in part because some savvier and less excitable readers already flagged it as fake news.