It’s been 20 years since medical cannabis was first legalized in California, but due to the recent unprecedented growth geographically and monetarily the phenomenon of legalization still seems brand new. In a lot of ways the industry IS brand new compared to those early days on the West Coast. Today, according to the 2016 ArcView Report, over half of the U.S. population lives in a state that provides access to some form of legal cannabis, be it personal adult-use, medical-use, or CBD oil. The plant is heavily regulated in many places across the country, including in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, and Alaska which have all legalized cannabis for consumption by adults over 21, and in 2016 a number of states on both coasts are set to follow suit. Because the re-introduction of cannabis as a commodity has come so quickly in recent years, and because the plant impacts so many different markets, many have been tempted to call this a revolution. The overturning of an old system to build something completely new. This idea that cannabis means building an industry entirely from scratch, however, is neither necessarily true nor truly necessary. The building blocks for a successful and sustainable legal cannabis industry exist all around us; we just need to shape them to fit our needs.
Technology is changing the world and rather than having to modernize old systems the cannabis industry has the opportunity to build its infrastructure around cutting edge ideas.
This isn’t to say we shouldn't innovate or that pure creation isn’t needed – both of these things are essential. Technology is changing the world and rather than having to modernize old systems the cannabis industry has the opportunity to build its infrastructure around cutting edge ideas. Our workflows will grow up around seed-to-sale software like BioTrack THC or MJ Freeway, and our database of information is already being shared and codified on websites like Leafly, Project CBD, and CannaRegs, or through apps like Growbuddy. Additionally, the industry faces unique legal challenges that it will need to overcome, such as the tax burdens associated with 280e, the limited access to banking that forces business to be handled in cash, or advertising limitations in print, broadcast, and on social media that other legal businesses do not have to deal with. It will take real ingenuity to fill these needs and overcome these obstacles, but with focused imagination the solutions to these problems will become the foundation of the industry.
The majority of operations in a cannabis business, though, are not a matter of pure invention. They are a matter of harnessing decades of experience accumulated in other industries and applying it to the cannabis space. The skills and institutional knowledge involved in running a retail business – including staffing, controlling inventory, tracking sales, and logistics – apply to any product and differences between markets can be compensated for through standard research. We're finally beginning to get consumer data on cannabis sales courtesy of firms like New Frontier Financials but raw data is meaningless without the skill to turn it into actionable goals. This also holds true in fields like design and marketing where underlying skills and best practices have been honed over time by countless professionals and only require educated tweaking to apply to cannabis. Business development, strategic planning, and brand development in cannabis don’t require a seismic shift from the standard approach; they only require a marriage of experience with the specialized knowledge of this market.
Though in a lot of ways legal cannabis is every bit as fresh and new as reports are stating, there are a lot of lessons we can learn by tapping the right experienced partners and doing research into existing solutions. The ground floor has yet to be built in this industry, but we don’t need to create a new hammer to build it.