Researchers at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York recently published a study about how some online cannabis dispensaries are not properly verifying the ages of its customers and allowing minors to make purchases. Entitled “Access to Marijuana by Minors Via Online Dispensaries,” the study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics and found that online shops do not do enough to deter underage purchases.
“Several studies have shown that underage consumers can buy alcohol, cigarettes, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) online, highlighting the ineffective age verification procedures of online vendors,” the study stated. “We examined age verification procedures and potential youth access to online marijuana dispensaries.”
In order to come to this conclusion, researchers utilized Google searches with key terms such as “order weed online” and “buy marijuana online” and analyzed online dispensaries between July 2022-June 2023. They compiled a list of 80 dispensaries, spread among 32 different states, and found that 22 (or 27.5%) of those dispensaries offered delivery to consumers in other states other than that of their residence. Additionally, 21 (or 95%) of these dispensaries were offering delivery to states that did not have the same measure of legalization.
Most cannabis websites ask the visitor to verify if they’re over 21, but this study found that only 56 (or 70%) did so, and only three (or 3.8%) required a birthdate to proceed. Out of the 80 online stores reviewed, only 53 (or 66.3%) required consumers to verify their age when either making a purchase, or when a product was delivered, and 15 websites (or 18.8%) apparently “required no formal age verification at any stage of the purchasing process.”
Researchers noted that overall, only 40 online stores (or 50%) asked for identification through government issued IDs, and only 21 online dispensaries (or 26.3%) required a medical cannabis ID.
Out of the 80 dispensaries, only 54 (or 67.5%) had written policies about selling to minors, 13 of those (or 24%) didn’t even ask consumers to verify their age, and an additional 13 (also 24%) didn’t ask for ages prior to the purchase being made.
Even more worrisome was that 67 dispensaries (or 83.8%) completed purchases through untraceable methods, including cash, cryptocurrency, or prepaid cards. This means that minors could not only make purchases without their age being verified, but their payments can’t be traced either.
Many dispensaries also offered certain discounts to bring in consumers, with 15 (or 18.8%) offering first-time buyer discounts, four (or 5%) featured student discounts, and two (just 2.5%) had discounts in relation to using cryptocurrency.
“It is imperative to require strict age verification procedures prior to cannabis purchases online and to establish stringent surveillance of online marijuana dispensaries to protect youth,” the study stated. They also noted that “pediatricians and caregivers must be aware of the widespread availability of online dispensaries and potential dissemination of marijuana to minors.”
In conclusion, the researchers pointed out that many of these dispensaries did not effectively verify age when consumers decided to purchase products, and they used questionable payment methods that cannot be traced.
Researchers explained that the sample collection window was short, as was the dispensary sample size, and their keywords to locate the 80 online dispensaries featured in the study may be expanded if used in a future study.
They concluded by noting that the examples of this study could be used to thwart legalization efforts in the future as well. Many legislators who oppose cannabis often target the topic of youth safety to prove the harms of cannabis.
It’s undeniable that there needs to be enforcement for dispensaries like those featured in this study who aren’t playing by the rules. However, it’s also important to note that on a grander scale, many other studies are examining how cannabis legalization is, or is not, affecting youth across the U.S.
In March 2022, a policy paper from CPEAR stated that cannabis legalization hasn’t increased youth consumption. According to CPEAR executive director Andrew Freedman, the paper “further outlines the need for congressional action to build a federal cannabis framework rooted in data, correct the current patchwork of cannabis laws, and build preventative measures into place to protect America’s youth from cannabis misuse.”
One study published in November 2022 noted that there was no change in cannabis perception among youth living in recreational legal states. A December 2022 study noted that youth were ditching alcohol in favor of cannabis. Most Americans these days believe that cannabis is safer than both alcohol and cigarettes, although youth cannabis use still poses a unique set of concerns. A study from June found that psilocybin is an effective way to treat alcohol-use disorder.
Also in June 2023, a Canadian study found that there have been fewer incidents between youth and law enforcement due to cannabis legalization, and in fact reported a decrease in cannabis-related offenses between people ages 12-17. Additionally, the study mentioned that there “was no evidence of associations between cannabis legalization and patterns of property or violent crimes.”
Study authors concluded that Canadian legalization, which began in 2018, “was associated with sustained and substantial decreases of approximately 50% to 60% in national patterns of male and female police-reported youth cannabis-related criminal incidents over an approximate three-year post-legalization period.”