Between 2012 and 2015, 45-year-old Stephanie Arora drove for Uber and Lyft in her native San Francisco. She left ridesharing behind in the same way most everyone does: Eventually, the finances of paying for her own gas and making her own hours didn’t work with her bottom line. In the years since, she’s worked in telemarketing and tech sales, but in 2018, Arora made an unconventional return to the delivery industry as a professional driver for the California cannabis dispensary Caliva. Today, Arora’s work days are spent couriering weed cookies, flowers, gummies, and beverages to eager customers all over the Bay Area.
Last year, Caliva partnered with the marijuana delivery service Eaze, which provides Uber-like commerce and geotagging software that automates the cannabis order process. Every morning, Arora walks into work, and sifts through the addresses and receipts that are beamed directly to her phone. But unlike Uber, Lyft, or the rest of the gig economy, Eaze isn’t a decentralized platform. Each driver is a full-time salaried employee of the marijuana company that happens to be licensing Eaze’s network. Arora is a longtime advocate for cannabis, and while she uses her own car, the company provides her full benefits, sick leave, hourly wages, and mileage reimbursement, which stands in complete contrast to her time working for ridesharing apps. (Currently, Caliva says they’re paying their drivers anywhere between $15 and $17.50 per hour.)
In that sense, Arora is just like any other employee at Caliva; a delivery professional, rather than an eager side-hustler.
According to Arora, the cannabis delivery business comes with its own set of nuances that set it apart from dispatching pizzas or burrito bowls. In California, there’s strict legislation about how one can legally transport marijuana (in a tightly locked box: No open containers!). There’s also the social aspect: Drivers need to adapt their handoff method to the specific anxieties of each customer. (Some people don’t want the pot lady knocking on the door, some welcome her with open arms.) There’s also the occasionally awkward conversation with a family member who might not understand why you’ve pivoted your career to what can only be described as Drug Possession With the Intent to Distribute.
In general, Arora has never been happier. She wanted to make inroads into the marijuana business, and she’s thrilled that she’s managed to find a position that treats delivery as a respectable, fully-guaranteed vocation. As far as Arora’s concerned, the schematics of the hustle economy are failing its workers and any disillusioned ridesharing professionals out there ought to seek out their local dispensary.
As someone with previous experience driving Uber and Lyft, what was it about delivering cannabis that seemed like a promising job opportunity for you?
I’ve always been passionate about cannabis, and the idea of bringing the product directly to customers that want it was very exciting to me. Giving rides to strangers was interesting in its own way, but this was kind of a deeper connection. It’d make a difference in their lives.
So this job feels more like a social good to you?
The delivery service saves customers the time it would take to go out to a dispensary, assuming they are physically able and have access to one, and provides access to safe, quality cannabis products. So, the social good of delivering cannabis to folks for varied purposes — medical, wellness and recreation — is obvious. Most importantly, I see myself as a social pioneer helping erase the stigma of something unfairly demonized by prohibition.
Why did you end up burning out on ridesharing?
To be quite frank, the regulations. Diminishing returns. When you start something new like Lyft it was great, it was fun, you could make a lot of money doing it. But as time went on, they went from being focused on their drivers to being focused on growing their business. When I got done driving, it became clear that it wasn’t a good opportunity for me anymore. Their commission structure changed. In the beginning, if you were working a reasonable amount of time, 30 hours a week, they weren’t charging you a commission. That had to change. Obviously, as a company, they need to make money, but it completely stopped working for me.
So how did you get your job with Caliva?
I went to a cannabis employment workshop in San Francisco. I had recently been laid off, and I had made a conscious choice that I wanted to get into cannabis. I was in telemarketing, which is a dying industry, and I wanted to get into something that was growing. I saw a job post [for Caliva] and I thought it could be the perfect position for me. I met with them and saw tremendous potential.
What was the reaction from your friends and family when you told them you got a job couriering weed around?
Most of them were like, “Right on! That sounds like the best job ever!” But I did have some conservative aunts and uncles that were a little concerned. But after talking to them, they’re totally on board. They love it. I even got them to try some cannabis.
Caliva, compared to other driving jobs, offers you full-time employment with benefits — rather than the contract work of Uber or Lyft. We tend to think of driving jobs as a side-hustle in 2019, so did that surprise you at all?
It was fantastic. It’s a dream come true. It’s a cannabis job where you actually are fully employed and have access to benefits, a 401k, sick time, that when you’re driving as a gig worker are not available to you. When you’re driving Uber and you get sick, you’re just not going to make your money. So that Caliva was actually hiring for real employment was definitely a big deal for me.
Take me through your average workday at Caliva. What does a normal day look like for you?
I work from 8:30 am to 5 pm, but other drivers work an evening schedule. I check in, I get my gear for my car. If we don’t have orders, we have conversations about how we can help around the office somehow. Then when the orders come in, we head out. We take two or three deliveries at a time on a route, to wherever it is we need to make a delivery, and then we clock out.
That sounds pretty low key, almost. Is that accurate to say?
Yeah, this is certainly not a high-stress position, but all that has to do with your attitude, which is how it is with every job. You have to deal with people in their various states of being.
California has pretty much legalized weed, but are there any rules and regulations you need to keep in mind when you’re transporting marijuana in a vehicle? Is there a lot of red tape?
Yeah, there are all kinds of rules that I can bore you with. But the short version is that we carry the product in a securely locked case when we’re driving around, because you don’t want it to fall in the wrong hands. Also, I want to be safe, so I don’t think anyone can tell what I have in my car by looking at it or by looking at me.
So you like to look inconspicuous.
Definitely, yeah. And I think the customers appreciate that discretion as well.
What is the handoff like? I’ve ordered Uber Eats before where a guy hands a bag of food through the window and that’s that. Is it like that for you?
It depends on the customer. I’m an old-fashioned delivery person. I think the package has to get to the front door with a smile and a nice conversation. But for the customer, as soon as I take off with the product they’ll get a link so they can track it. I send a text saying that I’m on the way, and I’ve had people say that they really don’t want me to come to their door. Like, “Park down the street and I’ll walk to you.” But I’ve also had people say, “Come inside! Show me how all this stuff works!”
Do you have regulars?
Yeah, certainly, I’ve had people that I’ve delivered to multiple times. There’s a woman I deliver to whose mom is having these cancer treatments, and there’s nothing that helps her except for these CBD drops that we have. So she orders every couple of weeks, and I always ask her how her mom is doing and how things are going. But there’s all sorts of people that you only see once.
Does it ever feel surreal that driving around delivering cannabis is both gainful employment and completely legal for you?
It’s absolutely surreal. A couple years ago, this couldn’t have been happening. I was having a conversation with a customer who was like, “I’m so happy I can do this here. You’re bringing me my weed! You’re here right now!”
Do you think a career pivot to weed delivery might be a better choice for other people in ridesharing?
100 percent, I’m actively [advocating for it] now to whoever might listen. It’s a tremendous opportunity to reinvent yourself. The experience that you get when you’re driving on Lyft or Uber, 99 percent of the time it’s great. But the experiences that aren’t great? They’re epicly terrible. So, don’t you want to do something where every time you see a customer they’re happy to see you? Wouldn’t you want to make that change?
There’s a big conversation right now about classifying rideshare employees as actual employees. What are your thoughts on that push? Do you think there needs to be a transition in the gig economy to more centralized companies that are offering more benefits and salaried wages?
Yes, the finances just don’t work for people in the gig economy. That’s my main objection. If you could earn enough to get your own insurance and take care of yourself and make a profit? That’d be fine. But companies are making a tremendous profit on the backs of these folks that are working for them, and these folks are not protected. And that’s just not okay. Moving away from a gig to an actual job, I think it’s a positive thing. Hopefully those companies will start to protect their employees more.
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