Net Neutrality and it’s controversial reversal, carried by a 3-2 FCC vote on December 14, could make matters very complicated and costly for the Cannabis industry. Supporters of the FCC’s sweeping changes will champion the move as another effective way to reduce overbearing regulations on big business. Critics can’t look past these relaxed conditions potentially making it easier for large corporations to decide what you can and cannot view when you are connected through their services.
Due to the inherently hot-button nature of recreational and medical marijuana legislation, some service providers might decide to block access to any site that has any hint of anything to do with the Cannabis industry. This could in effect drive up the price to do business for the companies who provide legal cannabis products and rely on the internet for advertising and to drive business.
What’s at Stake?
Mergers like Disney and Fox—creating a conglomerate with a very conservative bend to their leadership and direction—could mean Cannabis businesses advertising and selling products online could suffer.
What is important to remember when examining this topic is much of the harshest criticism paints a worst-case-scenario of how far those who dominate the Internet marketplace will go. Just because the net neutrality rules are going away, it doesn’t mean all service providers and major players in the Internet arena will use the new loophole to restrict free speech at every turn. Still, the potential is there for the biggest players to now write their own rules. Though we may never see the end to the Internet as we know it, what providers charge and how they service/forbid access to certain sites and content could change drastically.
For serious advocates of medical and recreational marijuana legislation, and those educating the general public about the issue, net neutrality’s dissolution could see their platforms relegated to an Internet leper colony. The trend of state after state deciding to make marijuana use recreational could be severely slowed by these changes if more and more anti-Cannabis companies gain power in the Internet space. The “what-if” list is a mile long if you really want to imagine how the new landscape could be abused by the influence of corporate cash. If that influx of new capital comes out of the pockets of people who are decidedly against Cannabis advocacy, the so-called “Green Rush” could take a huge financial hit.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) advocates for all areas of free speech and Internet access for people with any perspective they want to share Online. EFF Attorney Kit Walsh recently commented on Net Neutrality with a clear statement delineating how the FCC decision could impact those interested in furthering the recreational and medical use of Cannabis:
“…cannabis legislation is a politically contested issue. Nonprofits and grassroots organizations are at a disadvantage on a non-neutral internet, because moneyed interests on the other side can pay for a leg up,” said Walsh. “Repealing the current net neutrality protections would mean that small players have less of a voice.”
Erik Altieri, the executive director of NORML (a popular Cannabis reform organization), further argues, “Our nation should be looking for more ways to open up access to information, not implementing policies that would hinder the free flow of knowledge for the benefit of a few companies who control the telecommunications industry and major media.”
What’s to come?
The Cannabis industry already faces serious hurdles due to the states where legalization is taking hold and not being aligned with federal law. Banking is a mind-numbingly complicated issue for businesses trying to tap into the Green Rush. Although states provide businesses a green light to operate, federal authorities could step in at any time and effectuate arrests and seizure of products and cash proceeds of any Cannabis enterprise in the United States. Now Internet Service Providers and other interests putting financial pressure on Internet conglomerates could suppress the pro-Cannabis message by claiming the need to be in line with federal law. Net Neutrality’s wipe-out leaves the door wide open for severe abuse of the system, but critics might also be underestimating the power of a public backlash.
One of the most significant deterrents to the powerful corporations at the top of the Internet food chain changing the status quo is how the public could react to any major disruption of what they know and love. A mass revolt is certainly possible, although it may now have to be televised instead of being broadcast on YouTube. Supporters of the need to wipe out Net Neutrality argue that competition takes care of price concerns, but pay to play politics in the media could certainly become more prevalent with the neutral ground requirements swept away from the World Wide Web. It’s a double-edged sword that could cut the pro-Cannabis movement deeper than any other.
Other than that we just get pretty high.
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