A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that 18.8% of online cannabis retailers do not implement age verification, raising concerns about youth access to cannabis products. The research examined 80 online sellers, revealing that 84% offered nontraceable payment methods, potentially enabling minors to make purchases discreetly. Additionally, 28% of these sellers provided an out-of-state delivery option.
Conducted between July 1, 2022, and June 15, 2023, the study identified online cannabis dispensaries using Google search terms. The researchers assessed various aspects of these websites, including whether they verified users’ ages before allowing access or purchase. Notably, none of the examined online dispensaries required documented age verification to enter their sites.
While it remains unclear whether the study differentiated between licensed brick-and-mortar cannabis dispensaries operating within state-regulated markets and online-only businesses selling hemp-derived products, it underscores the potential risks of youth access to cannabis-related items. In most states, licensed cannabis retailers must manually verify customers’ ages, often at multiple points during the purchase process. In contrast, purveyors of hemp-derived products operate with less regulation, under the assumption that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized products containing less than 0.3% THC.
The study revealed that 70% of the online dispensary websites prompted users to confirm their legal age, while 3.8% requested specific birthdates. However, none of them required verified age documentation to enter. To complete purchases or receive cannabis products, 66.3% of the sites asked users to verify their age. Verification methods included government-issued identification (accepted by half of the sites), medical cannabis identification numbers (accepted by 26.3%), and self-reported birthdates (accepted by 10%).
Furthermore, the study found that 92.5% of the dispensaries offered vaping products, 93.8% sold edibles, 53.3% provided nonalcoholic beverages, and 78.7% offered chocolates. Approximately 67.5% of the sellers offered local delivery, while 66.3% provided pickup options. Additionally, 27.5% of the websites offered out-of-state delivery, with 95% claiming the ability to ship to states with varying cannabis laws.
The researchers expressed surprise at the willingness of online dispensaries to offer interstate shipping and the vague language used on many of the websites. It is important to note that the study did not distinguish between hemp-derived products and regulated cannabis products, highlighting the need for better regulations in the hemp industry to prevent minors from accessing intoxicating products.