Unmanned Drone Deliveries; the Future for Marijuana Dispensaries?


Internet retail giant Amazon recently revealed that they are planning to use drones to deliver packages to premium “Amazon Prime” customers’ doorsteps. Within 5 years Amazon hopes to offer customers 30 minute delivery for items 5 pounds or less which comprises 86% of all their shipping orders. Amazon says they are on track to have their drone technology ready for operation as soon as the US Federal Aviation Administration regulates civilian use of drones in public air space. The next question then becomes is this a feasible option in the future for marijuana dispensaries? Delivering marijuana orders right to the customer’s doorstep?

Any owner and investor in a marijuana dispensary that has tried to open a merchant account is familiar with the complications regarding the marijuana industry’s tag as high risk. Banks are usually unwilling to open a merchant account for marijuana dispensaries due to legal risks as the federal government still considers marijuana a controlled substance regardless of state laws. However an August 29 memo from the Department of Justice (DOJ) promised to defer to state laws regarding marijuana dispensaries as long as they comply with federal objectives.


Drone usage for delivery will create a number of risky issues regarding the DOJ memo. The DOJ emphasized that dispensaries cannot distribute to minors, cannot deliver across state lines, and cannot be used as a front for trafficking drugs or other illegal activity. Doorstep delivery by drone does not guarantee that the package will go to its intended recipient. Should a minor, such as a neighbor or child member of the family, come across this package your business is at risk for a major violation of Federal law.

The second complication arises from the strict prohibition on delivering marijuana across state lines. Any drone-based delivery system would be confined to one state and one state alone. If your drone wanders over state lines or makes a delivery to a neighboring state you will once again be opening yourself to Federal prosecution. Finally, there is no system in place to ensure that drone delivered packages are delivering what they say they are. This could lead to Federal agencies raiding your business and drones to check that you are delivering what you indeed say you are, causing headaches and complications for your business to an already pricey delivery process.

Drone delivery may be the future for Amazon but for marijuana dispensaries it appears to be too risky. The potential conflicts with multiple initiatives of the Federal government will just invite more scrutiny and complications from the Federal level in an industry where any Federal activity regarding your business can be fatal. Drone delivery is just too risky in the present atmosphere regarding Federal versus state regulation for marijuana dispensaries, but maybe future legislation regarding the Marijuana industry will be more lenient. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the future brings.

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