Last week, online mega-retailer and all-around internet heavyweight champion Amazon announced that Amazon likes marijuana just like you.
Applicants for corporate office and warehouse appearances will no longer be tested for cannabis (although delivery drivers are a different matter). Additionally, Amazon officially supports the legalization of marijuana at the federal level and will join social justice organizations and drug reform advocates to lobby Congress to pass the most progressive legalization proposal in Washington.
Amazon’s turn to weed sparked a round of positive deserved media – a welcome break from the seemingly endless array of worker abuses, data breaches, and regulatory penalties.
It also begs a very obvious question: will Amazon start delivering marijuana flowers, edibles, and cartridges to your door as well (as deliberately this time)?
Could Amazon Ever Start Delivering Marijuana? Not so fast.
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If age-restricted products like alcohol and cigarettes – as well as Amazon’s current approach to legal cannabis products made from hemp, such as products containing CBD and Delta-8 THC that the company doesn’t sell – are a clue, probably not.
“I don’t think they’ll touch it,” said Ralf Wilhems, a professor at Lake Superior State’s Lukenda School of Business who teaches on the university’s cannabis business program. Even after legalization, “the risk is simply too great,” he added.
Strict rules currently stipulate when, how and by whom cannabis can be legally supplied to adults. State licenses are required. Even with a license, bike delivery is banned, even in bike-friendly cities that have dozens of marijuana stores, and car deliveries must be governed by a host of other rules. You must be 21. It is a real agony!
“Okay,” you will say, “but won’t federal legalization change all of this?” Anything is possible, but states and cities that allow tight control over commercial cannabis seem unlikely in all but the longest of views.
No friend of cannabis reform, President Joe Biden is in favor of moving marijuana to List II of the Controlled Substance Act, which classifies many pharmaceutical drugs, for state legalization. Other proposals in Congress are more frank, but given the stance of the US Senate, where even Democrats have said they oppose legalization, the current forecast for federal marijuana legalization is “not that term.”
Even if there were state legalization, it remains to be seen what effect, if any, it would have on state law. It can’t change anything. Cannabis is illegal; Cannabis is currently sold in more than a dozen states. Given the US land use doctrine of “local control,” cities and counties will continue to set their own rules. Seeing cannabis treated with the same casual touch as alcohol still requires a profound change in institutional and cultural attitudes.
And there are legal products that Amazon doesn’t want to touch. Delivering age or prescription restricted products is difficult and risky. Amazon doesn’t touch cigarettes or alcohol. And Amazon also refuses to stock CBD and Delta-8-THC products sold by other, bolder online retailers.
For product analogs, alcohol is probably the best comparison to cannabis. In the past, Amazon has flirted with selling wine online, but has always limited the service to specific locations. In most parts of the country, Amazon liquor delivery has never started – and think about how much harder it is to sell cannabis than alcohol. Amazon has not joined the venture capital rush to enter the alcohol e-commerce market.
Congress recently passed legislation that made tobacco products very difficult to ship. Delivery giants like DHL, UPS, and FedEx are now refusing to ship vaporizer components. And Amazon never bothered to try. There are too many rules and the risk of wrong delivery – fines! Punish! Bad press! – is just too great.
“That’s why we don’t see these other products appear: the risk you are taking is just too great,” said Wilhelms, pointing out that large companies like Amazon are always risk averse.
“You can have a million sales and if ten people are bad the whole thing is ruined,” he said. If Amazon were a likely weed dealer, “they would have already sold alcohol or cigarettes,” he added. “These are big markets.”
Amazon doesn’t have to sell cannabis to make massive bucks, with higher margin, non-perishable, less restricted, and more valuable products. Amazon doesn’t need grass. Until Amazon – and only Amazon – sells absolutely everything, it seems unlikely that Amazon will jump into the grass game.