By Ankur Banerjee
(Reuters) – More people are buying marijuana online as internet searches for marijuana increase, according to a U.S.
Researchers saw a 98 percent rise in marijuana searches as a proportion of all searches from 2005 through part of 2017.
Searches that indicated shopping soared 199 percent in the same period, with 1.4 million to 2.4 million marijuana-shopping searches during June 2017 alone.
“The biggest problem is that the online market is entirely unregulated . . . it is an ‘anything goes’ market,” senior
author John Ayers of San Diego State University in California said in a telephone interview, adding that there was no control or oversight of the product being sold.
Using data obtained from Google for January 2005 through June 2017, the researchers looked at the fraction of U.S.
searches including the terms marijuana, weed, pot or cannabis each month, relative to all searches.
They also monitored shopping searches by tracking queries that included “buy,” “shop” and “order.”
Marijuana-shopping searches rose significantly each year in 42 of the 44 studied locations, underscoring the escalating
demand across the U.S., the study team writes in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The authors suggest that online markets can undermine both the U.S Controlled Substances Act as well as states that have legalized marijuana.
Online sales are already prohibited under virtually every regulatory regime, yet the market appears to be thriving, the
In July 2017, the researchers searched for themselves, using a dozen combinations of marijuana and shopping terms (for
example, “buy” and “marijuana”). Forty-one percent of their shopping searches yielded sites promising mail-order marijuana, with retailers occupying half of the results on the first page.
If only a fraction of the millions of searches and thousands of retailers are legitimate, the online marketplace poses a
number of potential public health consequences, the authors write, noting that children could be able to purchase marijuana online, and marijuana could be purchased in states that do not currently allow it.
“The problem of unregulated and illicit online marijuana retailers could be solved today by simply removing their
presence from search engines,” Ayers said.
The authors point to a move by Facebook to remove drug-related pages as one way to address the problem. They also
note that online payment facilitators could help by refusing to support marijuana-related online transactions.
The data didn’t show who was buying or selling, or the quantities of marijuana being exchanged, the authors
acknowledge. Other limitations are that some searches may not have been for the purpose of seeking marijuana retailers, and some retail sites may be illegitimate, including scams or law enforcement bait.
“Google does not allow marijuana ads on either the display or search side because the product is illegal on the federal
level. This policy is the same on the publisher side,” a Google spokesperson told Reuters Health in an email.
“Consumers overwhelmingly prefer to obtain their cannabis from legal sources and by and large, are only turning to online sites such as these because they live in states where that is not yet possible,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the
National Cannabis Industry Association, told Reuters Health by email. “The best way to curtail the illegal sale of cannabis online would be to regulate the entire adult use market across all 50 states which would result in licensed producers and retailers replacing these criminal outlets.”
“I do foresee federally-regulated interstate cannabis sales becoming a reality one day, just as it is with wine and spirits,
but that is still a few years off,” Smith added.
Ayers and colleagues write that regulations governing online marijuana markets need to be developed and enforced. Policing online regulations, they say, will require careful coordination across jurisdictions, with agreements on how to implement regulations where enforcement regimes conflict.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2wazCNl American Journal of Preventive
Medicine, online March 22, 2018.