The First Thing Ever Sold Online Was a Bag of Weed – Or Was it?
Buying things online and through your Amazon app is a common occurrence nowadays but it wasn’t always like that. There were no smartphones, apps, or Shopifys back in 1972 when the base architecture of the Internet was being designed by really, really smart guys at MIT and Stanford. Al Gore was not present at either school at that time, just a fact check.
The origins of the Internet trace back to a project called ARPANET, a pre-Internet network that connected the computer networks at MIT and Stanford. Between 1971 and 1972 students between the two schools engaged in a commercial transaction, the first known of its kind on ARPANET, where a student at MIT bought a bag of cannabis from a student at Stanford. That would be the first online sale in the history of the modern Internet, or so the urban legend claims.
Reefer Madness Early Internet Style
Some groups now argue that the agreed upon transaction does not count as the first Internet sale because of two reasons. One, selling pot at that time was highly illegal and the sale itself would be nullified and not counted because you can’t legally sell that substance. Two, no money was exchanged or transacted online, so it wasn’t really the first online digital sale, it was more of the first agreed upon online exchange in history. It was more of an agreed upon sale in text characters than any actual sale.
So, what was the first online digital sale ever conducted over the Internet?
For those that do not support the idea of a small bag of marijuana being the first thing ever sold on the Internet, Phil Brandenberger’s 1994 purchase of Sting’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales” CD was the first real Internet sale involving an exchange of monetary funds. The transaction took place on a site called Net Market and it cost Phil $ 12.48 to buy the CD. No word yet if that included free shipping or if Phil enjoyed the album.
Can You Currently Buy Weed Online?
Yes, but that depends on where you live. In Canada, buying and shipping legal cannabis is legal. In fact, even before Canada went full recreational cannabis this past year, if you were a medical patient you could order your cannabis online and have it shipped to you FedEx. FedEx had a policy just for Canadian residence with medical marijuana cards that they could ship weed to them without any problems and without confiscating packages. With recreational legalization as a country, you can now order your weed online or through an app in Canada from licensed entities. Of course you can also order gray and black market weed online in Canada, but the payment system may be the more traditional Western Union, MoneyGram, or now, Bitcoin.
In the US, it is a big more complicated. To outside consumer you can order weed online through websites and apps. The process of making that happen is actually being piecemealed together behind the scenes. While getting a medical marijuana card online, going to an online store, ordering, and then having it delivered to you may appear seamless on apps such as Weedmaps and Eaze, it is actually a whole bunch of different processes being band-aided together. The MMJ doctor is telemedicine and is one company. Once your card is approved you then have to be transferred to a dispensary or delivery near you since you still can’t put cannabis in the mail or other shipping container. Cannabis is still a schedule 1 drug according to the Controlled Substance Act, so it cannot cross a state-line legally and certainly cannot be handled by an office of the Federal government like the Post Office.
The biggest problem with weed ordering online is very similar to Amazon’s biggest problem, which is called “the last mile”. Most of your online ordering for “normal” products is now super easy to get done and processed until “the last mile”. Monster companies like Amazon can do all the dirty work like the credit transaction and security, vendor relationships, boxing and shipping, and getting the item out the door from a distribution center. The problem comes up when bigger companies can’t get the packages to those in less populated areas in the agreed upon one- or two-day shipping. Hence, the last mile problem, everything is super-efficient until we get to the last mile of delivery. Every wonder why you see Post Office carriers “off duty” and just delivering Amazon package on Saturday and Sunday in their Post Office vehicle? Amazon has a contract with the Post Office to help with the last mile, basically Amazon is paying Post Office employees as well as private drivers now, to make the deliveries happen on non-official work times. Amazon has gone so far as to offer it’s own employees incentives to leave their current positions in the company and start their own “last mile delivery companies”.
If you live near a dispensary then most likely you can order weed online and either pick it up at the store or a delivery driver will bring it to you. If you are using the black or gray market, then you will either be dealing with non-licensed and non-tested cannabis that can also be delivered to you.
One recent development is that with the explosion of cannabis selling apps on the Apple IOS platform and the Google Plays store, both companies have issued warnings that the actual transaction of buying the cannabis CANNOT take place within the app anymore. So Weedmaps and Eaze can now walk the customer through the whole order expect when it gets time to checkout and put a credit card or Paypal in, the user must be pushed out of the app and onto a mobile browser to complete the transaction. Basically, it is Google and Apple covering their liabilities under Federal law. Aiding and abetting the sale of a schedule 1 drug is still a felony offense, so Google and Apples want to make sure the actual sale does not take place on any platforms they control and are responsible for in the eyes of the law. It is called CYA, or cover your ass.
When will Amazon and other retailers begin selling cannabis so that you can just order it like you do a pair of shoes or new tablet? When the Federal law changes and interstate commerce rules for a illegal substance no longer apply to the cannabis plant. Once cannabis is legalized or de-scheduled, it will no longer fall under the authority of the DEA or the Federal office known as the Post Office. The FDA will still be involved most likely since cannabis is still a consumable good and needs some for of regulation and testing for safety. When the Federal law changes and you removed the penalties and negative incentive for selling and shipping cannabis, you will see a surge in online retailers and shipping options, until then, we are stuck with being close to a dispensary, in a legal state, and the “last mile problem”.