Joint venture: Uber Eats to offer weed orders in Ontario

O Cannabis! Meanwhile, ride biz back to court in the UK over driver contracts

Uber Technologies' munchies delivery service, Uber Eats, has set its sights on another growth industry in the Canadian province of Ontario, Reuters reports.

Yeah, it's weed. Canada legalised cannabis in 2018, and since then the market has taken off to be worth CAD$5bn (£2.9bn, $3.9bn) a year – helped along by the pandemic leaving tokers homebound with not much else to do but, well, toke.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has already made overtures to the marijuana market in the US, where the psychoactive plant has been largely decriminalised but remains illegal in some states, telling CNBC in April: "When the road is clear for cannabis, when federal laws come into play, we're absolutely going to take a look at it."

But Uber Eats stops short of offering a true door-to-door dial-a-high, instead partnering with cannabis retailer Tokyo Smoke so that customers can place an order through the smartphone app then pick it up from their nearest branch.

According to Reuters, the company claims: "The partnership will help Canadian adults purchase safe, legal cannabis, helping combat the underground illegal market which still accounts for over 40 per cent of all non-medical cannabis sales nationally."

Indeed, some Canuck cannabis connoisseurs seem to think that legal weed sucks and are sticking with the black market – something the government would like to stamp out for obvious reasons ($$$).

Although an Uber spokesbeing told the newswire there was "nothing more to share at this time" with regard to expansion of the service to other provinces or in the States, they added: "We will continue to watch regulations and opportunities closely market by market. And as local and federal laws evolve, we will explore opportunities with merchants who operate in other regions."

While the illicit market may have the dankest of buds, as Canadian potheads claim, we imagine it can't compete with the pseudo-AI features common to smartphone apps. As Uber Eats is ostensibly a food delivery service, it is now in a unique position.

"We see you've ordered some cannabis. Would you like some random carbs to go with that?"

A joint venture made in heaven, some might say.

Highs and lows

On the other side of the pond, however, the focus is on Uber's poor track record over worker rights.

Early this year, the ride-hailing part of the company was in the UK's Supreme Court arguing that its drivers are self-employed contractors and therefore not entitled to holiday pay, minimum wage, and paid rest breaks.

Judges disagreed, ruling that Uber was in violation of employee law and perhaps Transport for London regulations too. The company today returns to the High Court seeking declaratory relief on the latter point.

Uber holds that drivers and passengers contract directly together while it claims to only act as an agent for the driver. The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) argues that this model "was designed to help Uber avoid its employment and VAT tax obligations by misclassifying itself as a tech company acting as a booking agent rather than the transport operator which it is licensed by Transport for London to be."

Citing the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, Supreme Court judge Lord Leggatt made the observation in July this year [PDF]: "Uber maintains that the acceptance of private hire bookings by a licensed London PVH operator acting as agent for drivers would comply with the regulatory regime. I am not convinced by this... an arrangement whereby drivers contract directly with passengers and Uber London acts solely as an agent is not one that is legally available."

The comment was made "in obiter" (in passing) so Uber is looking for clarification that it is legal for Uber to accept bookings on behalf of drivers.

ADCU president Yaseen Aslam, who was lead claimant in the Supreme Court case against Uber, commented: "It is outrageous for Uber to launch this brazen legal action to undermine the Supreme Court ruling in favour of their own drivers. Instead of reforming their business model, Uber is doubling down on misclassification at the expense of passengers, drivers, and the Treasury." ®

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