Personal Health

Delivering Medicine (Marijuana?) By Drone?

Pharmacies are inconvenient, so one SF startup plans to drop drugs via unmanned aircraft.

Photo Credit: Slavoljub Pantelic /

Soon, drugs could be falling from the sky in San Francisco. A startup named QuiQui has unveiled a plan to start delivering prescription medication via drone in the Mission District.

“The pharmacy has traditionally been an awful experience,” QuiQui claims on its website. “Nobody likes going when they're sick because they don't feel well, and nobody likes going when they're well because there are a lot of sick people there .... Now, it's possible to forgo all of the pain of dealing with pharmacies and have your medication arrive via drone.”

Medical marijuana users in the Mission would therefore be able to get their drugs without ever leaving the property, according to speculation by the International Business Times. However, QuiQui founder Joshua Ziering denied that the company would include weed in its pharmaceutical roster.

"We are not delivering medical marijuana," Ziering told the National Journal. "I think [the International Business Times] just made it up."

Despite Ziering's protests, if delivering more traditional pharmaceuticals via drone proves commercially viable, it's only a matter of time before someone starts shipping pot through the air, straight from the dispensary to the door. As a lightweight, high-demand product, marijuana is a natural fit for aerial delivery.

Companies like QuiQui got what looked like a green light to start their engines when a judge ruled on March 6 that the FAA did not have the authority to enforce a blanket ban on small commercial drones, ending six years of prohibition.

However, delivery plans had to be put on hold once again when the FAA appealed the judge's decision, concerned that it “could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground." As a result there is a stay on the ruling until the appeal can be heard.

“If they appeal and win, the team will abide by their rules and jurisdiction,” QuiQui's website said.

Should the FAA ban be permanently lifted it could open the floodgates for an extensive rollout of various drone-based ventures. Most notably, Amazon announced late last year that it was researching the prospect of using drones to drop orders on customers' front stoops within 30 minutes. Perhaps inspired by companies that used drones to film at the winter Olympics in Sochi, domestic sports teams have been investigating using them for their own publicity shots, the AP reports. A brewery in Wisconsin even has plans to fly beer out to ice fishermen, according to the National Journal.

Even before the March decision, the FAA had acknowledged it couldn't ban commercial drone use forever. “Innovation is what makes America grow and prosper," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in November, according to Reuters. "As we move into the second century of flight, we're transforming our airspace in ways to take advantage of technology breakthroughs and to maintain our position of global leadership."

The agency was ordered last year by Congress to implement a plan for “safe integration” of unmanned aircraft by September 2015, although in February it said it was unlikely to meet the deadline. Once the rules are in place, the FAA estimated that about 7,500 commercial drones could be viable within five years.

Aaron Kase is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter at @Aaron_Kase.

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