Yes, Amazon sells weed. Stop worrying and start taking action
The Haymaker is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis policy and culture.
Yesterday’s strange marijuana news from the Amazon left the cannabis world in a barrage of conflicting emotions.
In case you missed it, the global delivery giant announced its support for statewide legalization through the MORE Act and said the company would stop drug testing of some employees for cannabis use.
Amazon’s support for cannabis legalization is a big deal. The company employs nearly 1.3 million people worldwide, and that announcement beats the prohibition fable that people who enjoy weed in their spare time cannot be healthy, happy, and productive workers.
But it also awakens the ghost of Amazon after legalizing eating the cannabis industry’s lunch. The idea of Amazon Prime drones dropping weeds on America’s canopies doesn’t just scare the old prohibitionists. It also sends chills to cannabis retailers.
It shouldn’t. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
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First, let’s unpack the announcement ourselves. In a blog post sent to hundreds of thousands of Amazon employees in the United States, Dave Clark, CEO of the company’s Worldwide Consumer Division revealed that in his quest to become the world’s best place to work and the world’s safest place to work ( his words and capitalization, not mine), wrote:
In the past, like many employers, we have banned people from working at Amazon if they tested positive for marijuana. However, given that state laws are moving in the US, we’ve changed our course. We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for agencies that are not regulated by the Department of Transportation, but instead treat it in the same way as alcohol. We will continue to review workplace impairments and test for all drugs and alcohol after each incident.
Amazon has employees tested for cannabis use? Wait. This is a company so embedded in its hometown of Seattle that it insists on getting sued in its hometown of King County, Washington if you have a lawsuit. This is a district where cannabis has been legal for all adults for more than eight years. Clark apparently only got the memo last month.
Clark also revealed that “because we know this problem is bigger than Amazon,” the company’s public policy team would support the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), the draft Congressional law that would end the federal ban.
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The MORE Act and Schumer’s Upcoming Bill
The MORE Act passed the House of Representatives last year but died in the Senate. It was recently reintroduced into the house where it is expected to happen again. But many cannabis professionals on Capitol Hill are over the MORE Act. Instead, their eyes fearfully wait for the long-promised all-encompassing law to legalize New York Senator Chuck Schumer to be dropped.
Schumer has the upper hand in all of this as the Senate majority leader, and his bill is expected to replace the MORE Act. The MORE Act was originally co-financed by the Sen at the time. Kamala Harris and some Republican senators are reluctant to give the Democratic vice president “a victory”. (Yes, politics can be even more petty and smaller than you imagine.) A Schumer bill, if it finds a Republican co-sponsor in the Senate, might have a better chance of getting passed.
Will Amazon start selling weed when it passes? Of course, Amazon will start selling weed. Or at least it will try.
Will Amazon put your local pharmacy out of business? Probably not.
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Think about alcohol, not books
Often times, when people think of Amazon destroying an industry, they think of Uncle Jeff putting America’s bookstores out of business. But bookstores are the wrong analogy. Cheap pre-rolls and top-shelf eights aren’t bestsellers or itty bitty book lights.
The more appropriate analogy is alcohol. The alcohol industry experienced the same fears four years ago. When Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, the trade magazine Drync ran an article entitled, Did Amazon Just Kill the Liquor Trade as We Know It?
They wrote, “Amazon acquired more than 330 new liquor licenses overnight in 41 states. This will undoubtedly change the way consumers buy and engage with alcohol. “
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Did you know that Amazon delivers alcohol?
It’s 2021. Amazon didn’t kill the liquor trade as we know it. Consumers have not changed their alcohol buying habits. Amazon’s entry into the alcohol game is still so creaky that I’ve spent part of the last hour trying to figure out if I can deliver Amazon alcohol to my home in Seattle. I still don’t know if it’s possible.
According to several previous articles, the company’s Prime Now service delivers alcohol to customers in 12 select cities – including Seattle. So where are they hiding it?
Alcohol bottles aren’t swimmers or water balloons (two of Amazon’s bestsellers this week). Selling alcohol requires compliance with 50 different complex alcohol regulations in 50 states. Beyond the 50 sets of state registers, there are additional sets of district and city registers. It is not easy. That’s why Amazon only tried it in 12 cities. The liquor stores in these cities aren’t closing because of Jeff Bezos. Most liquor buyers in these cities don’t even know that Amazon sells whiskey, and they can’t figure out how to order brown sugar bourbon in Seattle. (Forget it. I’ll go to Trader Joe’s.)
The devil is in the details – in the legalization law
National legalization through the MORE Act or Chuck Schumer’s Very Secret Forthcoming Bill is unlikely to create an open market for everyone. Marijuana will remain tightly regulated from state to state, as will alcohol, unless the language on those bills changes – to something much more friendly to an Amazon delivery model, for example.
This is where it gets tricky. It is much easier to influence the language of a bill you support than one that you oppose. Maybe Amazon has learned from its alcohol experience. Perhaps his lobbyists are working to turn Schumer’s upcoming bill into something that will allow the company to move more easily in the cannabis industry.
Perhaps it is up to those of us who want a fair, equitable, and diverse cannabis industry to get involved and make our voice heard on Capitol Hill and in our own legislatures. This is where the national and state framework conditions for the industry are established. Amazon’s lobbyists are already shaking hands and forging relationships. If you can be there, go. Talk to your local member of Congress. Book time with your country representative. Tell them about your cannabis job, your medicine, your patients, your place in the community.
If you can’t be there, support the organizations that reinforce your values. Because Amazon is already going through the halls and strengthening theirs.
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Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, research, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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