Lauren Edmonds   |   November 13, 2018

Pushing Marijuana Technology into Medical Tech Futures

As more and more people turn to marijuana for relief, it’s become clear the legalization of cannabis plant growing and the drug product has opened up a new industry—in fact, the market size of the marijuana business is expected to skyrocket and reach $55.8 billion by 2025.
Lauren is a Principal at Schellman with over 15 years of attestation and compliance experience. Lauren has evaluated risks and controls for a number of industries including cannibas tech, financial services, manufacturing, marketing,…

With thirty-three states and the District of Columbia currently allowing some form of legal usage of the drug, the United States appears to be leading the way in legalizing marijuana. Most of this new legal use revolves around taking marijuana for medicinal purposes, as the use of the drug has been confirmed to help alleviate the symptoms of a number of illnesses, including multiple sclerosis (MS); however, marijuana has also been successful in subduing vicious side effects brought on by prescribed drugs against cancer.

As more and more people turn to marijuana for relief, it’s become clear the legalization of cannabis plant growing and the drug product has opened up a new industry—in fact, the market size of the marijuana business is expected to skyrocket and reach $55.8 billion by 2025. With this explosion on the industry scale comes a new requirement for technology which can improve yields and automate the production line. Other industries experiencing a similar growth spurt also often saw the development of ideas and innovative technologies streamline processes unique to those trades and could sometimes even be cross-applied in other businesses. The cannabis industry is no exception, as it’s made use of previously developed tech to further its own interests, even as newer, specialized conferences--such as CannaTech—are springing up. Seminars like CannaTech, now a global conference, showcase the latest innovation in specific cannabis technology to investors and scientists alike.  So, what are some of these latest innovations making the marijuana industry a leader in medical technology?

Pulling in the Stash

Even as the legalization of cannabis has created an unusual cash flow problem within the industry, some of the more traditional financial institutions are still wary of dealing with cannabis companies—as such, they won’t sanction credit card transactions or open bank accounts relevant to the industry. Even PayPal made sure to include cannabis under their narcotics section of their acceptable use policy to prevent a business account being used for marijuana transactions. (Such a policy is enforced as demonstrated in this article here about a business attempting to use PayPal for sale of their cannabis-related goods.) In the absence of the advantages offered by official, more traditional financial institutions, cannabis companies have had to deal, almost exclusively, in cash. For what has become a multi-billion-dollar industry working across multiple disciplines with thousands of customers, this can be a challenge.

The result is separate innovation in the financial sector tailor-made to cater to the specific challenges of the marijuana industry. These products, among others, are taking the industry into 21st-century banking:

  • payQwik allows cannabis-based businesses to complete transactions electronically while ensuring they follow state compliance on marijuana sales. Sales can even be made mobile through a smartphone app.
  • Zazzz vending machines, some of which stock marijuana products, are now set up to take bitcoin payments.

A Block of Cannabis

As in the healthcare industry, medical advances—especially drug discovery—are also part of the fabric of the cannabis business, and the sheer growth of the marijuana sector has encouraged stiff competition to expand rapidly. One of the areas that competition has focused on is the development of new strains of cannabis which can moderate and individualize the marijuana for use. With strains going for as much as $1,500 per pack, this type of investment is essential. One company using innovation in technology for maintaining strain intellectual property is Medical Genomics, a new, spin-off from an established, certified genetics testing laboratory specializing in identifying rare pediatric neurological conditions. Using similar technology, Medical Genomics has created a new gene sequencing product, StrainSeek, which instead uses the blockchain as a repository for strain DNA, monitoring consistency, and discovering new, unique strains of marijuana.

Automatic Hit

And who could forget about automation—the current revolution across all industries—which is also being embraced by the cannabis growing community? Like any industry, automating processes, such as growing a crop, can help boost productivity, and marijuana even has its own, specific new tech to boast. Companies like Bloom Automation design and build robots specifically for the cannabis industry as they attempt to optimize the crop yield of medical cannabis growers. Their technology offers robots that can discern between bud and branch better than a human, and they’ve also automated branch trimming to decrease trim time.

But that’s not all—other companies, like Trees, offer marijuana delivery services which use drones for the drop. Another company--Eaze—is also experimenting with drone delivery when it comes to their services in connecting medical facilities with patients and medical marijuana. The Denver-based company, Baker—a customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce platform--has also helped revamp and develop the cannabis industry with more familiar business tools such as marketing analytics and point of sale (POS) systems. Having expanded to 800 dispensaries and 20 states, Baker’s new application programming interface (API) aims to give its clients access to real-time inventory and customer data, and those cannabis dispensaries will then be able to use this sophisticated solution to understand how to attract, build and retain customer relationships and increase business value. Now sometimes referred to as the “Salesforce of Pot,” Baker—along with all of these other companies—represents part of the tremendous effort to grow the cannabis industry into a fully collaborative, functional ecosystem which only continues to evolve.

As the industry maintains this expansive development, requiring more and more sensitive data, the importance of the security and privacy of the patients using cannabis remains incredibly important and should continue to be prioritized. A recent data breach at a startup company delivering cannabis products demonstrates why – a company’s customers’ delivery details were stolen by an insider who then held the data for ransom. Of course, the cannabis business is not unique in this, as many other industries have seen and dealt with breaches and compromised data. New technology—in any area—must also mean new and improved security measures, and cannabis patients should always be entitled to feel secure in their transactions.

A Chilled-Out Future?

It seems a nice coincidence that the marijuana industry has blossomed at a time when technical innovations in other areas—developments like blockchain—are also maturing. Whether it is the timing, or perhaps maybe the unique type of people entering and taking advantage of the industry, these new technological developments—no matter if they are cross-applied from other sectors or solely specialized for business plans in cannabis—are transforming the marijuana industry into a medical technology vanguard that is sweeping across the country. There’s no pun intended here, but other medical areas should certainly “take a leaf out” of the marijuana industry’s book and embrace all this new, advancing tech to improve their own drug design, delivery methods, and patient reach, all while helping people along the way.

 

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