For nine years, Arnold Marcus had been making a living selling spice grinders on Amazon.
His company, Golden Gate Grinders, had several colors available, repeat customers and an invitation to join the Amazon Accelerator program, a path toward becoming a supplier for Amazon's private label. Marcus, 68, would package orders and take customers' calls from his living room in San Francisco, proud that he was involved in every aspect of the business he built.
That changed overnight last year when Amazon removed his listings, flagging his products as a violation of company policy prohibiting the sale of drugs and drug paraphernalia. For the uninitiated, a grinder can be used for spices like oregano or rosemary, or for weed.
Marcus spent months fighting his ejection from Amazon's online marketplace, to no avail.
"There was no indication in all those years that this is a prohibited product," Marcus said this summer. "One day, they were supporting me and then one day it ended."
Amazon says its guidelines around drugs and drug paraphernalia are longstanding and state that products can't be primarily designed for making, preparing or using a controlled substance. Grinders that are equipped with features specifically for marijuana-related use are not allowed on the platform.
"Third-party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow all applicable laws, regulations and Amazon policies when listing items for sale in our store," a spokesperson said. "We have proactive measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed, including drug paraphernalia, and we continuously monitor our store, remove any such products and take corrective actions when we find them."
For sellers, the language of the policy is clear but enforcement is ambiguous.
In some cases, Amazon has flagged products that have been sold on the platform for years. It has removed some spice grinders, like those that Marcus was selling, while allowing similar products to remain for sale. One grinder that is still on sale includes in its product description that users can "just keep your weed in it until you need it."
A search for "spice grinders" on Amazon.com brings up more than 8,000 results. "Spice grinders for cannabis" has over 660.