How the ‘Priceline of Pot’ Is Bringing Comparison Shopping to the Marijuana Boom

Startup Wikileaf serves six states and counting

Dan Nelson figures it this way: If there are name-your-price websites for airline tickets, hotel rooms and vacation packages, why not for weed?

“We’re the first site in the marijuana industry to do a price-comparison model,” Nelson said of his site, Wikileaf.com, which launched earlier this year but has just started to hit critical mass. After building the site for close to two years, “it’s nice to finally get some traction,” Nelson said. “We’re like the Priceline of pot.”

Hmmm. The people at Priceline probably wouldn’t want that phrase catching on.

Nevertheless, Nelson’s analogy is a good one. Let’s say you happen to live in a state where pot (medical or recreational) is legal. Chances are you’ve noticed that dispensary prices vary widely, or you’ve suspected there’s a better deal on the other side of town. Wikileaf’s reverse-auction model makes it easy to comparison shop. Cannabis consumers select what kind of weed they want (a nice Banana Kush, say), then name their price ($20-$350) and enter how far they’re willing to travel to get it (50 miles is the limit). In a split second, Wikileaf trawls through its database of legal cannabis vendors and spits out the best deal.

While dollar-volume figures weren’t immediately available, Nelson said Wikileaf features over 1,100 dispensaries in six states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington)—numbers almost certain to grow as the legalization wave continues.

Nelson’s other job is blogging about the banking industry, which is where, oddly enough, he got the idea for his pot-price site. When interest rates were high, banks used to compete to finance consumers’ home purchases via so-called reverse-auction sites like MoneyAisle.com. The financial meltdown of 2008 killed that business in a hurry, but a seed had been planted.

"It got me thinking about the price-comparison model for the marijuana industry,” Nelson said.

Thus far, Wikileaf.com makes no money, but Nelson hopes that selling exclusive sponsorships triggered by ZIP code—more or less what Google does right now—will eventually give him a revenue stream.

Until then, he’s got a cool idea, and one that competitors will probably try to break into. “Yeah, there will be other sites that’ll try to do this,” he said. “But we have what’s called the first-mover advantage.”

He’s also got a pretty good price on Alien Dawg and Alaskan Ice.