With the complicated legal landscape surrounding marijuana, online cannabis dispensaries are in a difficult situation. One challenge – new customers who may not know what exactly they are looking for or what the risks are. A new recreational customer may not understand, for example, what THC is and why different levels of it cause different effects.
What can, and should, dispensaries do to reduce their liability?
1. Make sure that customers are aware of the legal issues that might ensue if they take purchased pot home to a state where it is not legal. Marijuana should not be transported over state lines.
2. Educate employees so they can educate customers. Recreational marijuana and medical marijuana are not the same thing. Specific strains including Charlotte’s Web and Hippie’s Lament are designed for treating children and have extremely low levels of THC – the substance that gets you high. Customers who want a high need to be directed and sold to quite differently from customers seeking relief from pain. What kind of warning should be given by employees remains uncertain – it’s unclear whether a health warning is needed because we still do not know enough about the health effects of marijuana consumption. Smoking marijuana, especially high THC and low CBD strains, may carry with it some risk of lung cancer. However, employees of online cannabis dispensaries should definitely be educated enough to inform new consumers of the various effects marijuana can have – including the small, but definitely present risk of addiction. Be particularly careful with enhanced THC strains, as a customer who becomes addicted might try to argue that it’s the fault of the strain. Product should be marked properly with its THC level, just as a bottle of beer has the alcohol level.
3. Make sure that customers buying recreational marijuana know the risks of driving under the influence. Drugged driving is one of the biggest concerns faced by the industry in terms of getting support from people who are indifferent to cannabis legalization. Customers of online cannabis dispensaries need to be aware that while there is no DUI test for marijuana, in most states any amount of pot consumption is enough to be considered DUI. Colorado has a blood limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. However, it is much safer simply to stay home after indulging. Whether a dispensary could be held liable in the case of a customer causing a wreck from driving while stoned is uncertain, but…
4. If selling marijuana to a medical customer via online cannabis dispensaries, then staff should be careful not to practice medicine without a license. Medical dispensaries may have qualified pharmacists or pharmacy techs on staff, but only three states (Connecticut, Minnesota, and New York) require this. Retail outlets may not – and you place yourself at a very high level of liability risk if staff that are not qualified pharmacists give too much advice on, say, which variety to buy. Staff should protect themselves by having the patient check with their doctor and get information from them such as the best CBD versus THC levels for their specific situation and condition. Otherwise, a dispensary could easily become liable if somebody overdoses or turns out to react badly to the plant. Also, staff should not claim recreational marijuana has health benefits – although it may if it has enough CBD, this could be called a false warranty claim and get the store into serious trouble.
5. Customers need to be aware that it is hard to measure dosage with edibles. Staff need to be willing and able to answer questions about “magic brownies” and other baked goods, but should also be trained to consistently inform customers that they may not know how much THC they are getting. (Smoking is much more measured).
6. Retail outlets may have a challenge getting insurance – some companies, for example, will not provide workers’ comp. However, you should have commercial liability insurance, which may be required in your state. There are various specialist brokers that provide insurance specifically to marijuana-related businesses – most retail outlets are best off contacting one of these rather than trying to get workers’ comp and liability insurance from a general provider. Specialist brokers have an understanding of how to keep both them and you under the radar of federal law. Purely medical facilities may not have to carry general liability insurance.
7. Protect your cash and product – although it’s unlikely that online cannabis dispensaries will be liable for incidents that happen with stolen pot, the fact that many marijuana-related businesses are unable to retain banking services results in them being targeted by thieves. Keeping everything under lock and key is a good idea, and there is even a company that trains security dogs especially for marijuana businesses. if you do use a dog, make sure you are covered by liability insurance if the dog injures somebody. Dogs, however, carry less legal liability than armed guards because they are considered ‘less-than-lethal force’ – a properly trained protection dog is unlikely to kill somebody.
8. On the same note, avoid guns. Being armed may make you feel safer, but it can increase legal risk. Marijuana stores should consider, if the law allows, disallowing firearms on their premises as it will actually help protect the safety of both employees and customers.
9. Check the law on on-premises consumption – it is generally not allowed. Although it sucks not to be able to let people sample the merchandise, falling afoul of state law may also lead to a federal crackdown. Employees should also not be allowed to smoke or consume marijuana while on the job, as this can lead to sloppiness and poor practices that might result in liability for the company.
10. Card customers. The age restrictions are generally either 18 or 21 – but stores should cover themselves by carding everyone, even the obviously adult. This gives some protection from a 20-year-old that comes in with a fake ID. As marijuana may be dangerous to teenagers and children, stores should be particularly careful to ensure they avoid selling to children, especially when it comes to THC-infused candy or strains with colorful names.
Protecting yourself and your business from liability is a particular challenge as long as the laws about marijuana sale and possession are in the complicated state they are in – but common sense can go a long way to keeping you from an expensive lawsuit or, worse, actual legal consequences.