'Green Screen': The Case For Regulated Online Marijuana Markets

For drug policy think tank Volteface, journalist Mike Power explores online cannabis markets.

"Globally, cannabis prohibition is crumbling under the weight of popular opinion, scientific research, and simple good sense," writes investigative drugs journalist Mike Power in a Volteface press release for his report Green Screen. "Canada has just proposed laws to legalise cannabis, and Britain, I think, is ready for a new debate around cannabis – but more than that, I think it’s time for a new solution."

The solution, according to Power, who previously authored Drugs 2.0: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High––is a regulated online marketplace for users where users and consumers may purchase their marijuana.  

Power argues that an online marijuana market would become the preferred method of obtaining cannabis for the modern consumer, digital generation. And that such a model would limit youth access, and hold producers of weed goods accountable to higher standards.

"In the British context, the technological solution we offer––an exclusively online, regulated market that supplies cannabis to consenting adults for use in their own homes ––allows consenting adults to have their spliff and smoke it," says Power in the release. "A digital-only cannabis market would protect children, and limit their access to cannabis, but allows adults to make their own informed health choices.” 

Volteface policy director Dr. Henry Fisher says, "A controlled and regulated online cannabis market is both essential and long overdue in order to protect users from the risks of the illicit market; to limit access to younger users; to offer safer products and increase consumer choice; to develop less harmful products and safer routes of administration; and to control and restrict marketing and advertising." 

Application of such a model is practical not only in the U.K., but also in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently proposed the Cannabis Act, which would legalize recreational adult use, cultivation, and regulated retail marijuana sales. Indeed, the Canadian weed industry is already exploring how to conduct weed transactions in the digital ether. 

"One of the biggest publicly traded cannabis companies, Online Canopy Growth, is already launching a similar service in Canada called Tweed Main Street," says Fisher. 

In a conversation with VICE Canada, Trudeau indicated that by 2018, of-age consumers in the Great White North will be able to purchase their weed––online or otherwise––"in every corner of the country." 

Veritably, Power's Green Screen credits dark net markets (DNMs) such as the now-shuttered Silk Road, as inspiration for the model. But his vision for online cannabis markets (OCMs) keeps regulators and lawmakers in the loop, and proposes measures that would ensure age-restrictions, and quantity, quality and harm reduction standards. 

From Green Screen:

"The Silk Road sold every drug imaginable, via a storefront reminiscent of the early iterations of web retailers such as Amazon and eBay, and dealers paid a percentage of each sale to the site’s owner. The market operated pretty much unhindered, with more than 1.3m sales generating $1.2bn in revenue and $78m in commission in just over three years, according to the September 2013 criminal complaint. There were 146,946 buyers and 3,877 vendors."

"The solution to cannabis sales we propose would operate entirely within the constraints of regulated market economics. OCMs’ goal is to limit young people’s access to cannabis by undercutting black markets on price, choice and convenience, and to supply pure and dose-measured herbal cannabis, cannabis resin and edibles to adults for use in their homes. "

Power's proposition is arguably sound. If the future of marijuana sales is to be legal and regulated, it will also likely be online. Indeed, despite any hypothetical federal crackdown, the U.S. marijuana industry, which exists in some capacity in 28 states, would be wise to log-on to the logic of Internet weed-sales. 

Volteface is a London, U.K.-based policy innovation hub that explores alternatives to current public policies relating to drugs.