A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that 18.8% of online cannabis sellers do not require age verification, according to a Healio News report outlining the research. Among the 80 sellers included in the study, 84% offered nontraceable payment methods, which could help children hide their purchases, and 28% had an out-of-state delivery option.
Between July 1, 2022, and June 15, 2023, researchers created a list of Google search terms to identify online cannabis dispensaries that sold to U.S. customers, and collected data on various attributes of the sites, such as “if a site verified a user prior to entering the website and prior to checkout,” Ruth L. Milanaik, DO, a developmental and behavioral health specialist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, explained to Healio.
It is not clear if the researchers differentiated between licensed brick-and-mortar cannabis dispensaries operating within a state-regulated market and online-only businesses selling processed hemp products. In most states, licensed cannabis dispensaries and delivery services are required to manually check ID for every purchase, often at multiple points of interaction. Purveyors of hemp-derived products are essentially unregulated, operating under the disputed assumption that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized any hemp-derived cannabinoid product containing less than 0.3% THC.
The researchers found 80 online dispensaries based in 32 states and recorded their policies and products. Seventy percent of the websites prompted users to click yes to confirm they were of legal age, and 3.8% asked for a specific birth date, but none required verified age documentation to enter the website.
“The lack of age verification was surprising, but not unexpected,” she said, “as we knew that age verification tactics were lacking on many alcohol and e-cigarette sites as well from reading previous research.”
According to the research, another 66.3% required users to verify age when completing a purchase or on a receipt of a cannabis product, with half accepting options such as government-issued identification, 26.3% accepting a medical cannabis identification number, and 10% accepting a self-reported birth date. 92.5% of the dispensaries offered vapes, 93.8% offered edibles, 53.3% offered nonalcoholic beverages, and 78.7% offered chocolates.
Local delivery was offered by 67.5% of the sellers, with 66.3% offering pickup. Another 27.5% of the sites offered out-of-state delivery, with 95% saying they could deliver to states with differing cannabis laws than the state where the dispensary was located.
Milanaik told Healio that the researchers were “most surprised by the offers to ship across states and the vague language” on many of the websites.
Since the researchers used Google to identify dispensaries, and since licensed dispensary owners would be unlikely to publicly flaunt rules that would result in their license being revoked (i.e. selling across state lines), it is likely that many if not all of the reviewed dispensaries offering interstate sales were selling hemp-derived products, not regulated cannabis.
The fact that the researchers apparently did not distinguish between hemp-derived products and regulated cannabis products highlights the lack of consumer awareness of the difference, and the urgent need for better regulations governing intoxicating hemp products to prevent them from winding up in the hands of children.
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