On Thursday, December 14, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to roll back regulations created under the Obama administration. These protections were created to ensure that internet service providers did not discriminate or block content to their users. They also made sure that all websites receive equal speed — a crucial detail in the modern world, when a website buffering or taking too long to load can deter many of its visitors from returning. With these regulations removed, ISPs like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T can censor, block and slow down any content they choose. This will be extremely detrimental to marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community, people of color and activist groups, who rely on the free web to organize and thrive. One such group that this will certainly affect is the cannabis community.
Many aspects of the growing cannabis sector rely heavily on the world wide web. Obvious issues are things like delivery services, which are extremely popular in California and gaining traction in other states. Delivery services allow homebound patients to access the medicine they need, and are typically these patients’ only option. Online pre-ordering has also become very popular in legal states, which is beneficial to dispensaries and patients both; reduced wait time in line is preferable to customers who know what they want and don’t need the advice of the budtenders on staff, and keeping the crowds to a minimum is helpful to dispensary security staff for preventing theft. Other internet-necessary features include dispensary websites, strain and storefront review services like Leafly and the Travel Joint, political organization, kickstarter fundraising, information sharing in online forums and chats, and much more. Small cannabusinesses will be challenged by big business even more than they already are, as these companies will be able to afford the premiums charged by ISPs, leaving the mom and pop shops to buffer or be blocked entirely.
Comcast released a statement on November 22 that they “do not and will not block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content.” Even if this were to be taken as a valid promise to preserve net neutrality, cannabis is not considered “lawful” in many states, and is still a Schedule 1 illegal substance under federal law. States with more conservative views on cannabis legalization may choose to block access to websites that are educational or political, and put legislative efforts on a much slower track. Opponents of these rollbacks have turned their attention to congress, which has the power to supercede the FCC’s decision and reinstate net neutrality.