Online Marijuana Shops Make It Easy for Minors to Buy, Study Finds

The News

Many online marijuana dispensaries do not enforce age limits on purchases, and they have other lax policies that enable minors to buy cannabis on the internet, according to a new study published on Monday in The Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Numbers

The research examined the age-verification policies and other practices of 80 online dispensaries, based in 32 states, that sell marijuana to American customers.

The study found that 18.8 percent of dispensaries, or nearly one in five, “required no formal age verification at any stage of the purchasing process.” And that more than 80 percent accepted “nontraceable” payment methods, like prepaid cards or cash, thus “enabling youth to hide their transactions,” the authors noted.

Of the dispensaries studied, nearly one-third allowed delivery across state lines — and of those, 95 percent offered delivery to states with marijuana laws different from the home state of the online dispensary. Five percent of the dispensaries provided student discounts.

The Context

Health officials have expressed concerns about the effects of marijuana use on the developing brain, particularly in an era of increased drug potency and widespread legalization. According to a 2022 survey funded by the National Institutes of Health, 6.3 percent of 12th graders reported using cannabis daily in 2021, as did 2.1 percent of 10th graders and 0.7 percent of eighth graders.

Periodic use was lower. About one-third of high school seniors had used marijuana at least once in 2021, along with 20 percent of 10th graders and 8.3 percent of eighth graders.

The use of marijuana in these age groups fell during the pandemic; one theory is that young people had a harder time obtaining drugs, including marijuana, and consuming them outside supervision.

What’s Next

Online marijuana sales, and the ease of shipping, would seem to make it easier for minors to access the drug, the study’s authors noted. “It is imperative,” they wrote in their conclusion, “to require strict age-verification procedures prior to cannabis purchases online and to establish stringent surveillance of online marijuana dispensaries to protect youth.”

In the interim, they added, “pediatricians and caregivers must be aware of the widespread availability of online dispensaries and potential dissemination of marijuana to minors.”

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