It’s time to OK marijuana home delivery

With safeguards, it has a place in the state's new cannabis industry

MUCH HAS BEEN made in recent weeks about a proposal pending before the Cannabis Control Commission that would allow the home delivery of marijuana in Massachusetts. If you feel hesitant about the concept, you are not alone. Among the 54 percent of voters who voted in favor of legalization in 2016, there’s a subset who could imagine stores in our state but are nervous about marijuana arriving at one’s doorstep. Maybe there are concerns about whether it can be done safely. Maybe it’s the fear of diversion to children. Maybe it’s good old-fashioned NIMBY-ism: a store operating in another town is different than a delivery van arriving next door. For those who voted against legalization but have developed a begrudging acceptance as stores continue to open, delivery may seem too much, too fast.

I believe there is a place for home delivery in our regulated system if it includes guardrails that enable the cannabis commission to treat it as an extension of storefront retail. That includes identification checks when a customer makes an order and when a delivery is made to prevent underage sales.  Another is the use of body cameras by delivery employees to deter robberies and provide evidence when they do occur, as has happened in California and Nevada. The risk of crime must factor into any safely regulated system that functions well, not just for those who receive the delivery, but also for the public at large. Of course, privacy is important, and it is reasonable to limit the purposes for which collected video may be used.

So, if conflicting concerns exist, why allow delivery now? The reality is you can receive marijuana directly to your front door in Massachusetts today. Six registered medical marijuana dispensaries have provided delivery services to certified medical marijuana patients for two years already, some with the voluntary use of body cameras. At least one dispensary reportedly made over 2000 deliveries in 2018 without any reported incident.

More compelling, however, is this truth: any number of illicit market dealers are happy to make a trip right now to your neighbor’s home or to off-campus student apartments in college communities across Massachusetts. How prevalent is it? Check Yelp. Alongside recommendations for restaurants and nail salons, you will find reviews of both legal medical marijuana delivery and illegal adult-use delivery services. For other examples, look at the federal charges brought against a delivery operation in Milton last April. That complaint alleges a multimillion dollar business employed several people and netted $80,000 a month for a proprietor who paid no taxes while delivering marijuana to people’s mailboxes.

Marijuana is here, has been here, and it’s not going away. Illegal delivery services are openly competing against licensed, regulated, taxpaying businesses, and that demands our response. One option is to authorize monetary sanctions against unlicensed, unregulated actors as the state does in other regulated industry contexts. The legislation to do that is pending, but alone, it is not enough.

Given the general public’s preference for convenient service, it is fair to say that a regulated adult-use marijuana market without delivery misses the forest for the trees. The desire for expedient access will be filled – that much is clear. There are benefits to the state meeting that demand with a product that is tested for safety, taxed for revenue, and monitored from seed-to-sale to prevent youth access.

With legalized delivery, we also have a chance to provide lower cost business opportunities to people who have struggled to become part of a marketplace with high start-up costs and limited or no access to traditional capital because of marijuana’s federally illegal status. In some cases, those individuals are working to transition from the illicit market to the legal, regulated industry. The commission’s Social Equity Program is aimed at lowering the barriers they face. We know a regulated delivery system is not the solitary solution to the obstacles that exist to creating true equity in legalized marijuana commerce, but it’s an important step we can take now.

Meet the Author

Britte McBride

Commissioner, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
We may never eliminate the illicit market as long as marijuana remains federally illegal with a patchwork of state regulations across the country. Those under the age of 21 may still seek out marijuana – as they do with alcohol – and we know bad actors will cater to that demand. But by adding delivery to Massachusetts’ regulatory scheme, with thoughtful safeguards out of the gates, we may fulfill one of the mandates of legalization and start to make a dent in those concerns.

Britte McBride is member of Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.