With legalization of recreational marijuana just around the corner in Canada, it seems anybody young or old determined to buy weed online can already do so, with few repercussions.
“It’s just like ordering anything else online, just go, point, click and then it arrives as quickly as … four days, maybe a day. [With] some of the local ones you can order online and they deliver to you, and you can pay for it there,” says Lisa Mamakind, a well-known Calgary-based pro-marijuana activist.
After legalization, the only legal place to buy recreational cannabis will be the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Association’s website. But black market dealers are operating online, bypassing provincial and federal regulations as well as local law enforcement.
A quick Google search of “mail-order marijuana services,” or MOMs, results in hundreds of hits, ranging from online boutiques to delivery services that will bring the goods right to your door.
There are also multiple search engine sites, like Weedmaps and Leafly, where plugging in your location, your needs and your payment preferences generates a view to what’s on offer in your geographical location.
Your cannabis will arrive without proof of medical need says Mamakind, who was among the first to start an online MOM, the Sunshine Coast Compassion Club Society, in 2001.
She adds the MOM market is a flooded one, allowing consumers to register with more than one service to easily compare prices and products. She uses a number of MOMs, including Hempire Canada, Three Happy Cats and Bud Buddy.
What prevents children from ordering online?
Many MOMs work on a flawed honour system. When visiting some pages, a pop-up appears asking the user if they are over 18, to which the buyer could click, yes. While some pages require an ID scan, others don’t ask for any proof of age. Some sites also ask if the user has a medical marijuana prescription, but don’t necessarily ask for proof. Payment options range from credit cards, to email transfers.
While many services target adult cannabis consumers, there isn’t always a system in place to prevent minors from using such services. Mamakind likens the situation to kids accessing online pornography sites.
Some studies indicate the negative effects marijuana use on developing brains. Monica Pauls, assistant professor for the department of child studies and social work at Mount Royal University, says teens who use the drug regularly can experience “learning problems, loss of IQ and mental health problems.”
Reached by email, Pauls adds that although MOM sites might make it easier for kids to get their hands on cannabis, it would likely happen anyway.
“They will find a way, with or without the Internet — they’ve been doing it for decades … trying to stop kids from using the Internet in this way or accessing these sites is an exercise in frustration — we won’t be able to do it.”
What about the law?
Although selling and purchasing recreational marijuana is still illegal, other facets of the law can hinder enforcement. Police officers need to get a warrant to seize and search suspicious mail, but The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs told CBC that warrants are rarely granted, with exceptions relating to national security risks.
In 2015 the police chiefs association submitted a resolution to allow police more freedom when it comes to searching suspicious mail, but the Trudeau government did not make any changes to the Canada Post Corporation Act.
The Calgary Journal contacted the Calgary Police Service about who is ultimately in charge of enforcing recreational cannabis laws. The CPS pointed the Journal to the Alberta Cannabis Secretariat, which in turn said the police were the best source for information.
The CPS provided the Calgary Journal with a statement regarding how they deal with online trafficking:
“The Calgary Police Service will investigate complaints of drug trafficking that are reported through appropriate channels and provide enough information for officers to act upon. The CPS Cyber/Forensics Unit actively investigates the online illicit sale of drugs and prioritizes investigations based on the highest risk to public safety.”
What happens after legalization?
Although many MOMs claim to be medical marijuana services, these sites are not licensed retailers of cannabinoid therapy. One of the intended effects of legalization is to reduce the black market, but MOMs only seem to be growing in popularity and number.
The Alberta Cannabis Secretariat offers the following tips on how to recognize illegal MOM sites once legislation is in place:
“When the legal sale of recreational cannabis begins in Alberta, there will only be one source for online sales – a website operated by the AGLC. All other online sales in the province will be illegal. Medical cannabis is solely regulated by the federal government, and individuals who have prescriptions from health practitioners should continue to purchase directly from licensed producers, as per the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes (ACMPR) program.”
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