What Does Net Neutrality Mean for Legal Cannabis?
The uncertain fate of net neutrality is a hot button issue across all industry sectors, and the emerging legal cannabis market is no exception.
The free flow of information faces its greatest threat since the superhighway found its way to the masses — this is a big deal for cannabis.
Few things have helped marijuana change its cultural identity from Spicoli falling out of a van to Sanjay Gupta watching cannabis end a child’s seizure than the internet. So any changes to how it works could have major impacts on the emerging legal industry.
“Net neutrality” is a popular term these days. The basics (for the uninitiated) are this: internet service providers currently have to treat all data on the internet the same, no matter where it’s from. Say you want to look up Sprint phones on your Verizon smartphone — net neutrality prevents Verizon from making the competing Sprint website load at speeds so slow you may have been better off with a carrier pigeon.
But could this possibly have an effect on the pot industry? The possibilities are endless — just take Instagram. Want that bud shot to load a bit faster, or get that auction sniping comment in on time to get that sweet Mothership? Imagine having to pay an entry fee just to get into the auction: Your ISP could very well charge you extra to access Instagram at reasonable speeds, otherwise, you’ll be lucky if your videos upload before your phone battery dies.
It could get far more nefarious than that of course. The cannabis industry is synonymous with big data. These days, in many cases, distributors are using seed to sale tracking systems they rent as software, which means massive quantities of streaming data. All the information that’s required to change hands by law could end up being a potential cash cow for ISPs, and without specific protections from this, it only takes one clever capitalist.
Most importantly, what impact will net neutrality have on the democratic process — will we achieve a whole new level of pay to play politics, making it nearly impossible to organize at the grassroots level for change? If not for those grassroots activists online, many places where cannabis laws have changed drastically in the past two decades would still be singing a different tune — it goes handcuffs, handcuffs, cha, cha, cha.
Erik Altieri, Executive Director of the nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization, NORML, said the chilling effect on grassroots activism could be pronounced.
“One of the main reasons that we’ve been able to build majority support for legalization so quickly over the past decade is because of the rise of social media and the internet more broadly,” Altieri said. “By removing information gatekeepers from the equation, Americans were able to more readily access information and do their own research on the benefits and risks of reforming our nation’s marijuana policies and to easily organize fellow supporters to take action.”
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