Updated on December 6, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
In the age of the Internet, shopping is more accessible than ever. You can buy anything from groceries to electronics and have your purchase shipped to you across the world. Did you know some patients can also get their cannabis medicine online? Marijuana e-commerce not only benefits patients, but it enriches the cannabis industry as a whole. In this blog post, you’ll learn about:
The current scope of the United States marijuana industry and how online sales play a role in it
Trends and statistics related to the rapid growth of online medical cannabis sales
Who benefits from cannabis e-commerce and how it helps you as a patient
Using the Internet to enhance your medical marijuana treatment
The Cannabis Industry: An Overview
Marijuana is a rapidly growing industry in the U.S. With increasing state legalization, more businesses and nonprofits can lend a hand to patients in need. Cannabis business and activity vary from state to state due to federal law, but each state’s scene includes at least one of the following industries.
Dispensaries: Patients go to medicinal marijuana dispensaries to purchase cannabis medicine. They receive certification from the state to conduct business or nonprofit activities. To buy medical marijuana, patients have to visit a cannabis-certified doctor to get an authorization.
Pharmaceutical research and development: Pharmaceutical professionals can study and produce cannabis as a medicinal product. Some companies focus on research only, investigating the medical uses of marijuana. Others carefully create marijuana medicine using science. And certain businesses do both!
Cultivation facilities: Somebody has to grow the cannabis plants behind the businesses, and growers act as the backbone of the industry. They also often trim and cure their plants to make them usable as bud.
Producers: Growers and producers sometimes overlap, but certain production businesses act on their own. They can use the research from pharmaceutical companies to create high-quality medicine for patients like you.
Quality assurance: Once a medical cannabis product is complete, it goes to a lab for testing. These companies analyze each item’s cannabinoid content and ensure it doesn’t have contaminants.
Health care: Where would we be without the medical professionals in marijuana-positive practices and dispensaries? These industry members advise patients on their treatment plans.
Online sales and delivery: Here’s the focus of this post. We’ll explain the state of the online cannabis industry in just a bit.
Of course, the medical marijuana business involves even more aspects than the ones we mentioned above. The sky’s the limit!
The Growing Marijuana Industry
At the end of 2017, 29 states and the District of Columbia had legalized medical marijuana. More than half of U.S. states let patients access a natural alternative to standard pharmaceuticals. This trend not only helps patients in need, but it also increases cannabis business across the country. In fact, projections estimated the industry would be worth $7.9 billion by the end of 2017. Check out these facts and statistics showing the industry’s potential:
Legal marijuana sales increased by 33 percent throughout 2016.
As you can see, medical marijuana has opened up opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have them. This compassionate industry has paved the way for a richer life for both patients and workers.
Where Does E-Commerce Fit In?
More people buy cannabis medicine online than you might think. A study that analyzed online searches for marijuana shopping services found the number of queries increased by 98 percent between 2005 and 2017. These searches mainly occurred in legal states such as Washington and Colorado, so Internet users were looking for safe and legal sources online.
However, selling medicinal cannabis doesn’t come without difficulties. With federal laws banning marijuana on a national level, it can be hard to establish an online business presence. Most financial institutions refuse to allow payments to marijuana-related businesses out of fear of legal persecution. Most cannabis buyers must complete their transactions with cash, making direct online payments tricky. The USPS and major shipment companies completely prohibit shipping controlled substances defined under federal law.
But, like many other aspects of the cannabis industry, online marijuana entrepreneurs will find a way. Marijuana e-commerce professionals have turned challenges into innovation in the following examples:
Many areas of the United States don’t allow print, email or radio advertisements for cannabis. These restrictions push industry members to conduct advertising that strengthens local economies, cannabis businesses and e-commerce. Most companies in the marijuana industry opt for online or regional advertising that works around federal law. They often build active social media presences and create online advertisements on cannabis industry websites. To spread the word in their communities, cannabis businesses volunteer for good and work directly with their neighbors.
Online services make shopping easier by offering access to dispensary menus, creating doctor and dispensary directories and offering patient-friendly information.
Some businesses function as cannabis-friendly payment options, letting patients pay for online orders while participating in the medical marijuana industry.
By turning disadvantages around, online business owners have expanded resources, opportunities and jobs in the industry. Instead of setting commercial activity back, the roadblocks e-commerce faces have made the cannabis industry stronger than ever.
The Different Types of Online Cannabis Sales
As you can see in the previous section, online medical marijuana sales happen in many ways. These many options give you ultimate control over your treatment by offering a wider variety of medicine and dispensaries. Let’s look at three of the major types of medicinal cannabis sales online.
One of the most common ways patients buy marijuana medicine on the Internet is through their brick-and-mortar dispensary. Depending on where you live, you can order medication in advance or request delivery to your home. Some dispensaries act entirely as delivery services, letting you purchase ahead online. When you work with your dispensary to buy online, you can also take advantage of the medical services of their staff.
You can also find online marketplaces that combine dispensary menus in your area to give you an easy look at the medicine available near you. If more than one place has the same product, you can compare prices and reviews to find the perfect remedy. Depending on the business, you can request your dispensary to deliver your items, or set them aside for you to pick up.
If you don’t live in a state that permits online marijuana sales, your state might let you order cannabidiol medicine, or CBD medicine, online. On a federal level, CBD that comes from industrial hemp is legal to sell. Many patients prefer CBD-based medications because they don’t cause a high, making them suitable for people of all ages. You also don’t have to have a prescription or recommendation for these products. Keep in mind that certain states forbid CBD orders, so read your local laws carefully before clicking the “checkout” button.
How Do Patients Benefit From Buying Medical Marijuana Online?
The growth of marijuana sales online has broadened the horizons of medicinal cannabis patients throughout the United States. Thanks to Internet technologies, they can shop for medicine from the comfort of their homes. Marijuana e-commerce improves the patient experience by:
Offering a multitude of delivery options. In states that allow online cannabis sales, you can pick from a wide number of dispensaries and delivery services to bring your order to you. If you opt for legal CBD medicine, you can have your order shipped to you with popular couriers like FedEx and the United States Postal Service.
Increasing the number of medications to choose from. Instead of stopping by every dispensary in town, you can just visit their websites to look at delivery and pre-order options. Some dispensaries allow special orders of products they don’t have in their inventory. Online marketplaces collect listings from every dispensary in your area and let you directly compare products.
Reducing the cost of medicine. Whether on your own or with help from a marketplace website, you can use the Internet to compare prices on your medication. Since insurance doesn’t cover medicinal cannabis, you want to save every penny you can. With the availability of online reviews, you don’t have to worry about price reflecting quality when you choose a less expensive item.
Making medicine accessible to patients with all resources and abilities. We have a bit of a paradox going on when it comes to medical marijuana availability. Many patients who qualify for cannabis medicine have debilitating illnesses. However, dispensaries often require them to travel to get relief. Online ordering and delivery make the experience faster and more accessible.
Online Marijuana Sales for Dispensaries
The perks that come with online marijuana business services go both ways. Dispensaries have many ways to benefit from e-commerce. As a dispensary owner, you can grow your business through Internet sales by:
Boosting the size of your customer base. Some folks might want to purchase medicine from you, but lack the time, resources or ability. Online pre-orders and delivery make buying medical marijuana from you more feasible for busy or homebound patients. If you can offer home delivery, you can expand the areas your business covers.
Expediting your workflow. While some patients need face-to-face assistance, some don’t mind browsing and learning online. Website menus, pre-ordering and delivery let your Internet presence do some of the work for you. When patients order ahead of time, you can set aside the products for them instead of picking them out in person.
Offering convenient services that make it easier than ever to establish an online presence. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of building an online menu. There are plenty of services to help you build an e-commerce site that includes products, pricing and pre-order or delivery availability. You can even use a nifty code to add the menu to your website, saving prospective patients a click.
Why States Should Consider Medical Marijuana E-Commerce
The perks that come with online marijuana sales even impact state governments. Some effects happen indirectly by helping residents who then improve the state’s well-being. Others directly benefit states and their economies. Letting patients buy medical marijuana online allows for:
More cannabis sales, which means more tax income. Just like any other product, states can collect taxes on cannabis medicine that let them offer more public services. For example, Colorado earned an average of $6 million on in-person medicinal cannabis sales alone the first year they legalized medical marijuana. Imagine how much that number grew when online businesses began launching!
A more robust economy overall. Internet sales help dispensaries grow, which leads to more job opportunities. With more jobs comes more spending. Marijuana dispensaries fill a business niche that wasn’t there before, making the state economy more diverse.
Happier and healthier citizens. Medical marijuana e-commerce gives patients another option when traditional treatments don’t work. Increased access to cannabis medicine reduces reliance on medical services and improves the overall quality of life.
A shining example of a state that approves medical cannabis deliveries is New York. In a unique move, they not only directly regulate dispensaries, but they also oversee deliveries. Through the state’s department of health, patients can request their dispensary to deliver medicine to their home.
How Do I Buy Safe and Legal Cannabis Medicine Online?
In the United States, marijuana laws vary from state to state. Factors like qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, possession limits, cultivation rules and dispensary availability depend on where you live. This principle also applies to deliveries, but with another catch. In some states, cities can decide whether dispensaries can deliver medicine to patients, regardless of state laws. Determining your area’s stance on cannabis e-commerce can be tricky, but we’re here to help. In fact, we’ll walk you through the entire process!
First, you should figure out if you need a doctor’s recommendation to buy marijuana. States with recreational cannabis let adults over 21 buy without a medical cannabis card. However, we suggest getting one even if you’re eligible for adult-use products. Cardholders get benefits and legal protections recreational customers don’t. Read up on your state’s medical marijuana program and card to see if you qualify. The application process is totally worth it! You can visit a marijuana-certified doctor and get an evaluation if you think your condition counts.
Once you have a medicinal cannabis recommendation, you need to look at state and local laws to determine if you can order online and have cannabis delivered to your home. Some municipalities differentiate between deliveries and dispensaries, so read your city’s policies carefully. When in doubt, contact the relevant government officials to have them clarify the regulations for you. Even only having legal pre-ordering can make the dispensary experience easier for you or your caregiver.
Now that you can figure out what you can and can’t do, here comes the fun part! Research the dispensaries in your area to look at their online menus and see what services they have to offer. Depending on their policies and the law, you might have to make an initial in-person visit. But, once you stop in, some places let you get your medicine entirely online. Alternatively, you can find a marketplace website and provide your recommendation and ID to shop their listings.
Just like any other aspect of the medical marijuana experience, research is key to becoming the happiest and healthiest possible. For more information on cannabis medicine, look through our patient resources and read our blog updates. If you have a particular topic in mind, feel free to use our search box in the upper right-hand corner of the page.