Results of a recent study by researchers at San Diego State University found that millions of people are potentially able to purchase illicit cannabis online and obtain cannabis via regular shipping options, including delivery through the U.S. Postal Service, commercial parcel carriers, and private couriers.
The study was published in peer review American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Researchers analyzed “anonymized, aggregate Internet searches and search results” from Google for the period between January 2005 and June 2017, using search terms that included references to cannabis or marijuana, as well as any retail terms, like, “buy,” “shop,” or “order.”
“Researchers found marijuana shopping searches nearly tripled in the United States from 2005 to 2017, peaking between 1.4 and 2.4 million searches each month,” a study summary said. “Mail-order marijuana retailers occupied half of the first-page results, and three out of every four searches resulted in a mail-order marijuana retailer as the very first suggested link.”
The study also said that, for the time period analyzed, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Nevada had the highest number of online searches for retail marijuana. Searches referencing retail marijuana increased in every state overall during the study, researchers said, except for two–Alabama and Mississippi.
Forty-one percent of searches analyzed led to retail advertising of marijuana available by mail order, and three out of four searches resulted in a mail order marijuana retailer coming up as the first result, at the top of the search page.
Lead research professor John W. Ayers noted, “Anyone, including teenagers, can search for and buy marijuana from their smartphone regardless of what state they live in.”
The study’s lead author Theodore Caputi said, “Children could obtain marijuana online without safeguards to protect them. States that have legalized marijuana might not be able to collect taxes to offset the public health costs of legal marijuana from online retailers, and the instant online availability of marijuana could increase marijuana dependence among all age groups.”
Ayers suggested that public health officials working with Internet service providers might purge marijuana retailers from search engine results, in order to prevent minors from accessing marijuana online and, in legal states, to eliminate illicit marijuana retailers from competing with licensed cannabis vendors.