Marijuana delivery gains traction as legalization spreads

Recreational marijuana is legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia. In many states, you can already get pot products delivered to your front door.
A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves depicted on it during a protest calling for the legalization of marijuana, outside of the White House on April 2, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Consumers can have just about anything delivered to their homes these days. So why not legal cannabis?

States where recreational marijuana and cannabis products are legal are beginning to consider the question, embracing delivery services or considering moves to allow home delivery.

This month, New York became the latest to greenlight door-to-door orders. The goal is to jumpstart sales as the state’s newly licensed adult-use dispensaries continue to build their retail spaces. New York legalized recreational cannabis last year. 

Also this month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signaled that he is open to the idea of cannabis deliveries. 

“I think that as long as it is regulated, as long as we make sure that the person who is ordering it gets it, and that they’re legally allowed to, then it would seem to me like the same as somebody coming into a store,” Pritzker said at an event to celebrate the opening of his state’s first “social equity” marijuana dispensary. 

Recreational marijuana is now legal in 21 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. Thirty-seven states, three territories and D.C. allow medical use. An estimated 23 states allow the delivery of recreational marijuana or medical marijuana or both, according to tracking by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Some states temporarily allowed delivery during COVID and are moving to allow it permanently, but it’s a constantly moving target,” said NCSL’s Karmen Hanson. “And just because they allow delivery doesn’t mean that any licenses have been issued or delivery is taking place quite yet.”

In California, delivery of marijuana products has been allowed since 2018 when the first adult-use licenses became effective. 

Starting in January the state will ease the rules to allow delivery drivers to carry up to $10,000 worth of cannabis goods. Previously, the limit was $5,000. Drivers will also be permitted to travel with a larger quantity of unsold product, so that they can take orders on the go. Both rules are part of a comprehensive list of regulatory amendments announced last month.

In addition, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation this year that, beginning in 2024, prohibits local governments from banning the delivery of medical cannabis. The new law aims to overcome the nearly two-thirds of California cities and counties that prohibit retail marijuana sales.

“For the cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy or the senior living with chronic pain, this ban on medical cannabis can be catastrophic,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), the author of the bill, said in a statement last June. The bill “restores medical cannabis access across the state to help people get the medicine they need.”

The Cannabis Regulators Association, which was founded in 2020 by 19 of the nation’s top marijuana regulators, said states that allow delivery are focused on ensuring the safety of delivery drivers and consumers, as well as preventing the diversion of product to minors. 

“While cannabis delivery is not a new concept, states continue to explore different approaches to when, where, and how cannabis delivery can occur,” Gillian Schauer, the association’s executive director, said in an email. “These approaches may focus on increasing access to patients, increasing access to legal regulated products in place of illicit products, and expanding business opportunities in the cannabis marketplace.”

Schauer said some states have also used delivery licenses to give historically marginalized “social equity” applicants more opportunities to compete in the marketplace.

That is the case in New York where last month the state issued an initial 36 Adult-Use Retail Dispensary licenses with a focus on applicants who had been negatively impacted by the historic prohibition on marijuana.  

As those entrepreneurs set up their dispensaries, they will have up to one year to use a warehouse to fulfill orders, according to guidance issued by the state Office of Cannabis Management. Delivery of those orders can happen by car, bicycle or scooter. 

“We have moved incredibly quickly to get the supply chain in place,” Trivette Knowles, an agency spokesperson said in a statement. “Our focus remains on removing barriers to capital while getting the market open quickly.”

While cannabis legalization has taken off over the past decade, some states have shown more wariness about home delivery. 

Colorado, Washington and Oregon were three of the earliest adopters of legal recreational marijuana. Colorado and Oregon allow deliveries, but Washington does not – a prohibition that was affirmed earlier this year.

“It’s problematic for youth access,” said Brian Smith, communications director at the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, in an email. “It’s difficult/impossible to gauge ID checks.”

Colorado lawmakers approved legislation in 2019 that allowed for the delivery of medical cannabis starting in 2020 and recreational marijuana in 2021. Under the law, only one delivery is allowed per residence each day and deliveries are not allowed to college campuses. Drivers must also undergo proof-of-age identification and verification training.

Until last year, Oregon limited marijuana deliveries to the same jurisdiction where the cannabis store was located. But now, cities and counties can opt-in to allow home deliveries from adjacent jurisdictions. To date, no cities or counties have done so, according to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.  

Mark Pettinger, an OLCC spokesperson, said marijuana delivery was embedded in Oregon’s legalization framework and has not been the source of complaints or issues. 

“We gave the industry the privilege and they’ve utilized it in a manner where they haven’t taken advantage of the law and the rules allowing home delivery,” Pettinger said.