July 15, 2019
Online Youth Access to Cannabis – Imminent Danger Ahead
LOS ANGELES (July 15, 2019) —For many responsible cannabis license holders dealing with new, complex regulations, the word “compliance” often conveys frustration. Over time however, compliance can become a nightmarish scenario of never-ending action items growing proportionately to the number of emails and text messages besieging cannabis business owners. License holders know that one mistake may cost them dearly, and these are for issues known to them. People are so focused on keeping their heads above water for complying with existing regulations that they’re oblivious to imminent dangers lurking just below the surface.
One of these unseen yet paramount dangers for a cannabis brand is ineffective online youth safety efforts. In this era of social media and messaging apps, do you know that in California, companies cannot communicate with people under 21 in any way? Similarly, most U.S. states and Canada implemented basic regulations for blocking online youth access, generally referred to as “age gates.” The three most common are:
□ Are you 21: Yes or No?
□ Birthdate Verifiers
□ Actual Age Verification Services
Furthermore, did you know that if you engage any form of online advertising from any vendor for your cannabis brand, that the legal burden falls to you as the licensed cannabis brand to ensure that every venue where you advertise on the internet or elsewhere, is serving your ads to an audience that is at least 60% (or more based on State Regulations) of proper adult age to view the ads?
In a sign of this problematic issue rising to the surface, Health Canada recently stated that the current self-affirming age gates ('Are you 21?' and Birthdate Verifiers), are insufficient. However, it is not cost effective to use actual age verification to merely browse through a site. That’s no surprise to us, but the Canadian government’s public statement leaves the industry in a vulnerable legal position.
Beware of Lawyers Seeking New Revenue Sources
Unfortunately, there’s more to be concerned about than just government regulators. Lawyers are already training on how to sue cannabis businesses. One such entity is the Cannabis Industry Victims Educating Litigators (CIVEL) whose website loudly proclaims:
“THE MARIJUANA/CANNABIS INDUSTRY VICTIMIZES PEOPLE AND CAUSES MASSIVE DAMAGE. WE ASK YOU TO JOIN US IN A VITAL PROJECT TO MAKE THE MARIJUANA INDUSTRY LEGALLY ACCOUNTABLE TO THEIR VICTIMS AND OUR COUNTRY.”
You can be assured that CIVEL will seek to litigate youth safety issues because it is such easy, low hanging fruit. You may not lose your license or end up in jail, but the cost of defending your company against these aggressive trolls could bankrupt you and your company. Although the most likely outcome is that you will settle out of court – attorneys’ fees and other monetary costs can be exorbitant as are the loss of time and focus on running your company.
Reducing Your Exposure to Risk
What can be done to reduce the risk to cannabis companies? The first and best line of defense is parental filtering. Parents simply need to activate and monitor the parental filtering tools that reside on almost all modern electronic devices. Correspondingly, cannabis companies must embed specialized parental filtering codes on their sites. This combination blocks access to any inquiries and places responsibility (and liability) on both the site owner and the parents.
Enabling parental filtering on the site can be a powerful defense and may deter parents and others from threatening litigation against the cannabis industry.
Adam Thierer, in writing for the Progress & Freedom Foundation, noted: “Parental control technologies are now ubiquitously available, increasingly easy to use, and also increasingly free-of-charge. Indeed, there has never been a time in our nation’s history when parents have had more tools and methods at their disposal to help them decide what constitutes acceptable media content in their homes and in the lives of their children.”
The First Steps for Youth Safety
What does ResponsiTech recommend for companies in the cannabis industry? To start:
Embed its Responsible Youth Safety (RYS) parental filtering code on all entry point/pages to your site.
Continue to use self-affirming age gates for initial entry as a secondary safeguard.
And of course, use an age verification service for any purchase; especially for delivery.
Let a qualified marketing compliance expert conduct an audit of all of your brand’s internet and social media profiles
By establishing and adopting an industry-standard parental filtering (RYS), it demonstrates there is an industry effort to self-regulate as it relates to youth safety. Also, because different U.S. states and countries will have different requirements, the industry will rise above what is legally required – resulting in a higher level of compliance. This is both good for your company and the international cannabis industry as a whole.
There are other less visible but equally important benefits:
Your employees who have children will appreciate your extra effort.
Your employees will feel empowered about working in the industry, serving as ambassadors, talking openly and with pride that their employer is doing all it can to prevent youth access.
Other companies will feel more comfortable working with your company because you are making a profound effort to prevent youth access. That could include improved access to banking and advertising services, which is priceless!
RYS execution demonstrates your company’s corporate social responsibility.
How We Know ResponsiTech’s Youth Safety Solution Works
Previous, groundbreaking success set the stage for our current online youth safety endeavors. Our two co-founders have been involved in online youth safety in age-restricted industries and the Internet for over twenty years. The first parental filter (age gate) they developed for another age-restricted industry was adopted worldwide on 4.5 million sites. They received the American Society of Association Executives 2008 ‘Associations Make a Better World’ award; a U.S.
Congressional Commendation from Congresswoman Jane Harman; and, recognitions from several California legislators and cities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. For details about the awards, read more here.
The polices they established for a ‘high-risk’ TLD (Top Level Domain) were adopted by ICANN for all other risk domains. Another Co-Founder is on the British Standards Institute Age Verification Committee, and is the CEO of an age verification company. The founders have worked with international law enforcement, legislators, governments, financial institutions, and other child protection agencies.
Online youth safety for the cannabis community is much more than a lofty ideal, it is a concrete reality. According to Markets and Research.com, the global medical cannabis market is expected to reach a value of $44.4 Billion by 2024. Yes, the stigma of cannabis is easing worldwide as nations once again discover the cannabis plant’s many medicinal benefits.
However, as with any medicinal or adult-oriented product, online safety standards and access protections must be in place.
In a recent Online Harms White Paper, the British government declared, “Given the prevalence of illegal and harmful content online, and the level of public concern about online harms, not just in the UK but worldwide, we believe that the digital economy urgently needs a new regulatory framework to improve our citizens’ safety online.” The worldwide status quo of essentially unchecked youth access to cannabis websites is about to end, and ResponsiTech is the global solution for this new reality.
In future articles, ResponsiTech will address how to mitigate risk in website design, advertising, affiliate programs, and how to prepare to be accepted as a client by banks and merchant processors.
Learn more about us on our site, on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Joan Irvine, ResponsiTech Co-Founder & CEO, brings over two decades of policy development, government relations, and advocacy for online child protection in ‘high-risk’ industries to the cannabis industry. She successfully spearheaded an international award-winning parental filtering label and worked with First Amendment, Internet Security, and Privacy attorneys and international law enforcement to establish online child protection.
ResponsiTech offer a suite of youth safety technology and services that will enable the legal cannabis industry to thrive while ensuring that illicit youth access is restricted. Among those solutions are: an industry standard parental filtering label so youth will be blocked from even accessing websites, a state-of-the-art age verification technology that respects privacy while ensuring that only those above a specific age are verified; and age-restricted ad-buying and best practices so that youth is not accidentally targeted by marketing campaigns. These along with other solutions not only allow the cannabis industry to focus on its core business, but will also give banks, legislators and parents peace of mind over any concerns over online youth access is being taken seriously by the responsible cannabis industry. ResponsiTech assists companies in restricting illicit youth access and demonstrates the industry’s ability to self-regulate and comply with government restrictions with regards to youth safety. It helps shelter its members from regulatory threats, providing best practices for the international industry.