Millions of Americans Are Buying Their Weed Online, Study Finds

What does that mean for regulation?


Now more than ever, American pot users are purchasing their supplies through online resources.

A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine Thursday found that millions of Americans are searching for and finding pot from online retailers. A team of researchers, led by San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health associate research professor John W. Ayers, reached this conclusion by going back and monitoring over 12 years of Google searches regarding buying marijuana — from January 2005 and June 2017. Searches included many terms for cannabis; including marijuana, weed, and pot, which the researchers combined with the terms like buy, shop, or order. Furthermore, the biggest finding of the study shows that online “marijuana buying” searches have practically tripled between 2005 to 2017 in the U.S., reaching a peak of between 1.4 and 2.4 million searches each month.

This graphic shows the rise in online marijuana buying searches over the past 12 years.

*American Journal of Preventive Medicine*

“By studying anonymized, aggregate internet searches and search results, we were able to directly observe the online marijuana marketplace,” the study’s co-author Mark Dredze, of Johns Hopkins University, states in the paper, titled Online Sales of Marijuana: An Unrecognized Public Health Dilemma.

As the study’s title notes, easy access to marijuana e-commerce poses public health concerns, especially when it comes to minors buying the substance without proper regulation. Online sales of marijuana are also illegal federally, even as states set their own marijuana regulations that legalize the drug in some places. “States that have legalized marijuana might not be able to collect taxes to offset the public health costs of legal marijuana from online retailers,” the study’s lead author, Theodore Caputi, says. “And the instant online availability of marijuana could increase marijuana dependence among all age groups.”

This concern, the paper says, should help push for better policies between internet service providers and the government to help rid the web of these online pot shops.

A new policy to address this issue would “effectively close off illicit retailers from consumers,” author Ayers said of the study’s findings.

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