More than half of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use in some form, though each state has a different set of laws and restrictions when it comes to things like what counts as a qualifying medical diagnosis and how patients can receive and use their THC products.
As the demand for both medical and recreational marijuana increases, it becomes more challenging for dispensaries and farms to keep up with it, especially since growers and providers must contend with several tricky technicalities. What makes medical marijuana shipping so challenging, in spite of the high demand?
Limited transportation options
Cannabis growers in the United States are producing anywhere from 2.5 to 5 million pounds of product for sale every year. That number just encompasses the plant matter and doesn’t include the millions of pounds of edibles and other products that have THC or CBD in their ingredients list.
That’s a great deal of product to move from farm to factory and then finally to a dispensary – and medical marijuana logistics options have several restrictions.
The federal government still considers marijuana and products containing THC as Schedule 1 substances, putting them in the same category as dangerous drugs like heroin. That distinction means trucks regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) cannot transport cannabis products.
No traditional banking options
Medical marijuana logistics are challenging for a variety of reasons. When most people start a business, one of the first things they do is to head to their local bank and open a business account for storing and monitoring funds.
That’s not possible when you’re running a business in the marijuana industry, or even for people who are growing hemp, which the government legalized late last year.
Banks, credit unions and even online payment processors like PayPal, Clover and Venmo aren’t willing to work with the marijuana industry, and even people selling legal products are struggling to find an entity willing to process their payments.
These reasons have made the marijuana industry – both medical and recreational – largely a cash-only business. That makes it more difficult to secure transportation for cannabis and related products, which in turn creates challenges relating to a secure supply chain.
Strict advertising regulations
If you don’t have a medical marijuana card in your state, do you know anything about where dispensaries are or how to obtain legal cannabis? What about legal CBD-containing products – do you know what they can do for you?
Medical marijuana companies, as well as those selling CBD supplements, are subject to the most stringent regulations when it comes to advertising and the information they can share. One company, Curaleaf, received warning letters in 2019 for making unsubstantiated claims about the potential benefits of its products.
The industry is one of the most highly scrutinized in the country, because of its status with the federal government. Even if companies wanted to try and bend the rules to secure transportation from DOT-regulated trucks, they are under such careful observation that it wouldn’t be possible.
Cannabis-friendly transport companies
Despite these limitations, the medical marijuana industry is booming. The lack of support from the federal government and its related departments has spawned several small companies that specialize in shipping medical marijuana. They are filling an otherwise-overlooked niche within the industry.
It isn’t the perfect solution, but while the federal government directly opposes the marijuana industry, it can help keep these supply chains moving. These cannabis-friendly companies are one piece of the puzzle, and while the federal government refuses to support this incredibly lucrative industry, privately owned companies are happy to fill in the gaps and keep things moving in the meantime.
The future of the cannabis industry
The medical marijuana industry is in constant flux because of legislation/regulation in each state and the battle going on at the federal level. In spite of the problems the sector is facing, some medical marijuana logistics businesses are finding a way to back the industry.
This support might mean smaller and more frequent shipments carried out by private shipping companies, or cash-only transactions while banks refuse to enable marijuana or CBD sales, but more than two-thirds of surveyed Americans approve of recreational legalization, and nine of every 10 support legalization for medical use. Consumer interest is there, it’s just the federal government that’s lagging behind. The medical marijuana industry can help people by treating their ailments and improving their quality of life. It may take time for the federal government to catch up with what the majority of states have already figured out – that their consumers want legalization and are willing to do anything, including creating new industry sectors, to achieve that goal.