Are Amazon, Uber, etc. the future for delivering post-pandemic cannabis?

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It’s hard to say where we are in the COVID-19 pandemic right now, as infections and deaths continue to rise. But there have been movements in the cannabis industry that are changing the way the industry operates amid the pandemic that may stay post-pandemic.

Being allowed to operate as an “essential” business in the U.S. — which had a few bumps in the road between including both medical with recreational as essential businesses in states such as Colorado (that state quickly changed and added recreational) and Massachusetts — was one positive result that gave the industry some needed respect.

Sales have been strong, and delivery options were expanded as well.

Many U.S. states with legal medical and recreational cannabis have been allowing deliveries since they legalized. But because of COVID-19, dispensaries are now adjusting to curbside or drive-thru window sales to adapt to the new contactless, social distancing way of conducting business.

California licenses more than 150 legal cannabis delivery companies, the most of any state, including Eaze (now scaling back operations), Puffy, CaliExpress and more. The scaling back of Eaze may be just a delivery service experiencing hard times during the pandemic, or it may represent a harbinger of things to come, leaving the door open for more of these adapted dispensary-centered curbside/drive-thru sales.

In some U.S. states, dispensaries are operating under temporary rule changes about how to purchase cannabis product that consumers hope will stay after the pandemic passes.

In some U.S. states, curbside delivery is also allowed in an area as close to the dispensary as possible. / Photo: Jason Finn / iStock / Getty Images Plus Jason Finn / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Those temporary rule changes include Oregon, where the state’s regulators underline that this will not become a permanent rule, that if any one bad player creates a problem, the rule will be suspended for all dispensaries, that medical cannabis consumers or caregivers can buy up to 32 ounces of flower instead of the 24 ounces previously allowed by law, and that allows delivering product to a person in the parking lot of the store, a person at the front entrance of the store or a person at a walk-up or drive-thru window of the store.

In Washington state, curbside delivery is also allowed in an area as close to the dispensary as possible. But the state does not allow a drive-thru window.

What about Amazon, and Uber Eats, and other mainstream delivery services like FedEx, which was and is still the old-school way of delivering cannabis?

Amazon has been caught up in some illegal deliveries, demonstrating that people are already using the service illegally, and the company currently delivers hundreds of hemp products — hemp oil, hemp pre-rolls and hemp flower — along with almost anything else needed to operate a legal cannabis business (except the cannabis) which may be testing some state’s laws.

So it seems like it could be a quick transition for Amazon to deliver cannabis, if and when that happens.

FILE: This illustration picture shows delivery applications logos from Amazon, Uber Eats, Instacart and Doordash displayed on a smartphone on Apr. 10, 2020, in Arlington, Vir. / Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images / Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

The reality is that chances are still slim for those mainstream delivery services to deliver either medical or recreational cannabis as long as federal prohibition continues. A mainstream delivery company would be opening a can of worms and courting business disaster if it began delivering a substance still listed as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule 1 worst-drug-on-the-plant.

Ah, we can dream, right? Well, all is not lost.

There are hints that cannabis delivery using mainstream widespread delivery services could still happen someday in the same way that alcohol is delivered. Drizly, an e-commerce alcohol delivery service, promises delivery of under one hour to customers in places like Arlington, Virginia and about half the other states in the country. Virginia has some of the country’s toughest liquor laws, but in the state, there are regulations and a precedence set about delivering intoxicating, heavily regulated substances.

Time will tell. This year has seen much turbulence, and much change on both a business and societal level. That Amazon box on your porch may someday have a special green Amazon logo, representing something different and revolutionary inside. Puff-puff-pass.

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