13 Mar 2019
Amazon the “Everything” Store to Sell Weed?
Amazon started out selling books online but it’s called the “everything store” for a reason. The company now sells everything from clothes to mobile devices and even groceries. This has led some industry watchers to speculate that Amazon could one day sell high strength cannabis in the UK.
While Amazon UK’s policies at the moment prohibit cannabinoids, pot, and other related drugs from being sold there, in the past, a few Amazon sellers have gotten away with listing cannabis for sale.
The Register, for example, reported on Amazon listings of high strength cannabis back in November 2018. The news site got a tip-off from a reader that Amazon was selling high strength weed with brand titles like Amnesia Haze, Lemon Haze, and Tea.
Upon further investigation with Amazon’s team and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, it became clear that such weed sellers were contravening not only Amazon’s terms of service, but British law as well. The cannabis listings were promptly taken down, and police asked members of the public to alert them of similar incidents.
While Amazon may be some ways off from fully endorsing cannabis sales, it’s nonetheless clear that the cannabis movement, or “weed” as it’s commonly called, has begun to go mainstream.
According to Roger Everett’s Innovation Adoption Model, a product begins to go mainstream as it spreads beyond the rather niche early adopter groups. This model seems to fit very well with what we’re seeing in the weed market today.
Consider that, just a few years ago, smoking cannabis was frowned upon in nearly all but a few, fringe, subgroups of society. Not only so, but cannabis smoking was considered a serious criminal offence, one that could wreck career or social standing.
Now, however, medicinal cannabis is legal in the UK, and, in a growing number of countries, recreational use of weed has been decriminalized.
In the UK, the government announced that medicinal cannabis would be legal starting on November 1st, 2018. The statement goes short of legalizing weed for recreational uses. Instead, it allows specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis based medicines for patients without having to obtain approval from a medical panel first. In other words, if the doctor determines on his or her own that a cannabis solution would help the patient’s condition, they can prescribe it directly.
Quick Guide to the State of Weed Legalization
Elsewhere in Europe and around the world, some countries have made strides towards legalizing weed. Below is an overview of where weed can be legally purchased:
- UK - a medical prescription is required
- Netherlands - legal for licensed coffee shops
- Uruguay - legal for recreational use
- South Africa - legal for recreational use
- Canada - legal for recreational use
- US - legal in some states (including Nevada, Maine, and California), prohibited in others
Just like in the UK, the state of cannabis legalization globally is in flux, and the law is, at times, unclear to all. An example of this playing out recently was when Tesla CEO Elon Musk went on a podcast and was filmed smoking weed.
As reported by NBC News, when word got out, Tesla shares dropped 9%. This, despite Musk smoking in a state where it’s legal to smoke weed. The incident highlighted that the laws are not only widely unclear to most individuals, but that even in states where weed has been legalized, it will be perhaps some time before smoking cannabis is accepted as a common thing.
What’s Delaying Amazon’s Weed Empire
While Amazon might not be in the weed business itself today, industry insiders think that Amazon’s entry into the market is a foregone conclusion. For example, Jim Patterson, CEO of Eaze, a weed startup, thinks that “there’s no doubt that eventually Amazon will get into this business.”
According to Yahoo’s interview with Patterson, Amazon might take a bit longer to enter the market while it waits for clarity from the US federal government. Given that a number of US states have been leading the charge on weed legalization, that initial support for weed legalization could grow.
For the moment, however, Amazon has been making it clear that, in line with laws in the major jurisdictions where it sells, it is not selling cannabis direct to consumers. Instead, buyers can buy hemp products from Amazon.
Hemp is a low-THC variant of the cannabis plant. Hemp is used in a number of applications, including skin-care products, clothing materials, dietary supplements, and industrial packaging.
In this help thread, for example, Amazon’s customer service representatives assure buyers that buying a hemp product from Amazon is totally legal. Hemp has very low levels of psychoactivity, making it ineffective for use as a drug.
However, should Amazon wish to someday enter the weed market seriously, it would find there are some big name competitors. The International Cannabis Business Conference reports that Canadian retailer Loblaw has entered the weed market in that country, while others are quickly following suit.
In the UK, health retailer Holland and Barrett is one of the leading sellers of medicinal cannabis products. If patients have prescriptions from a medical doctor, they can visit Holland and Barrett to get their supply. The laws used to require that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the compound in cannabis that gets people high, remain below 0.05 percent. In the future, however, it’s possible that patients will be able to buy cannabis and cannabis products with higher THC concentrations.
According to the Independent, Home Secretary Sajid Javid clarified that the legalization of medical marijuana was not a step towards approving recreational use. This might have been an announcement to justify the government’s decision to hard line weed opponents, but it has not altogether quelled questions about recreational marijuana. According to the same report, former Conservative party leader William Hague has argued for the decriminalization of weed for recreational use. According to Hague, decriminalizing weed will avoid the current situation where weed profits go to criminals, and the strain on police resources for the status quo.
A statement on the NHS website, however, makes it clear that possession of marijuana outside of a valid prescription is still considered illegal.
With legal clarity not fully worked out yet, this is perhaps the biggest obstacle delaying the entry of major retailers like Amazon into the market.
Amazon Weed in the UK
As the legalization of weed gathers steam in the UK and elsewhere, it’s possible that someday, retailers like Amazon will be able to sell high strength weed in the UK market. In some countries, notably Canada and a few others, big name retailers are already able to sell weed to consumers. In the UK, however, the state of weed legalization has only gotten as far as legalizing medical marijuana. When that changes, we can expect there to be a lot of new industry entrants, including, potentially, Amazon and other big name retailers.
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