03.11.2016
policy

The Future of Marijuana Is Mobile

Digital technology. The sharing economy. Weed will be everywhere.

As access to marijuana continues to open up, attitudes surrounding it are shifting, and it's showing up in more places than ever.

While responding to questions from KINDLAND regarding the relevance of digital currency in cannabis, Marshall Hayner, an entrepreneur in both the legal weed industry and bitcoin space, defined the future of weed retail—and most other aspects of the industry—as relying on mobile apps. Hayner’s company, Trees, operates much like Birchbox (cosmetics) or Graze (healthy snacks). It curates high-end cannabis products that are delivered to a network of California medical marijuana patients. When we spoke last year, he told me of a long-term vision for cannabis delivery utilizing blockchain-enabled-drones that would unlock and present the product after an encrypted transaction takes place. 

Image via Trees

Hayner’s interest in mobile marijuana is vested, but it isn’t off in the clouds. Technology has empowered the weed world to become fully mobile; expediting processes across the industry from home-cultivation to in-store and delivery distribution. There are “Postmates of Pot;” “Etsys of Weed;” and even mobile-based inventory management and logistics platforms designed specifically for weed businesses. Medical marijuana recommendations can be obtained from a doctor in the digital ether, over video chat. If necessity is the mother of invention, when it comes to the weed world, she’s more like the "cool mom." She’s down with weed, but yeah, get to innovating!

In February, Canadian Federal Judge Michael Phelan declared the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) unconstitutional—and granted medical cannabis patients in Canada the right to cultivate their own medicine at home. On Monday, a judge in Virginia, removed criminal penalties associated with cultivating the herb—even on an industrial scale—and manufacturing derivative cannabis products such as concentrates and edibles.

The two rulings are very different: In British Columbia, the trial was about access to medicine; in Virginia, cannabis is being viewed as a potential savior for a state economy that has always been sustained by agriculture––tobacco, peanuts. 

But both decisions hinge on the uniqueness of weed as a commodity and a medicine: You can’t manufacture aspirin in your garage. You can’t have doctor-recommended Xanax delivered to your door in 30-minutes or less on any given Sunday afternoon. You can grow high-end cannabis on your own. There are ways to get weed and its ancillary products delivered to your door, depending on where you live. 

When it comes to cultivation, there is no lack of innovation. Enter “Hotbox”—a cannabis grow-operation on wheels, and the product of a startup with hopes to help medical marijuana patients cultivate their own medicine at home. The setup has LED lights, and is claimed to have a grow capacity of up to 40 plants. Hotbox could soon be available to consumers and cannabis patients (for $18,000-per-unit) and was seemingly inspired by the spirit and utility of food trucks.

Image via Hotbox

“I experienced all the pitfalls many personal growers do,” Hotbox creator Graham Ford told Vancouver press. “You would require building permits, electrical inspections, possibly a fire department inspection…But because [Hotbox is] on wheels, because it's plug and play—there’s no safety concerns.”

Maybe, less safety concerns.

Another company, Clone Shipper, after launching a patent-protected product that makes transporting and shipping plants much safer and easier on the plant, secured a massive investment from cannabis venture group Arcview

From Forbes:

“The group paid for injection molds to go from Dixie-cup invention to hard plastic container, and the Clone Shipper was born. While 60% of [sic] customers originate from the cannabis industry, [Clone Shipper] is getting more calls from growers of tomatoes, peaches and other plants.”

Wikileaf—another tech solution to enter the weed game in recent years—operates as a “reverse auction.” Wikileaf is like Priceline.com but for pot instead of traveling, and sans any William-Shatner-infused-advertisements.

BoingBoing might have said it best:

“Wikileaf is the first price comparison website of its kind, empowering marijuana consumers to name their preferred price for pot--then watch as recreational and/or medical dispensaries compete for their bud business…You, the consumer, set the price you intend to spend. Dispensaries in your area offer their best deal (in grams) to match what you're willing to spend.”

In theory, the Wikileaf concept is a powerful tool for the cannabis connoisseur. The site has two interfaces—one for recreational states, and another for medical. It breaks bud down into a category menu (indica, sativa, etc…). Ultimately, at this stage, its hard to really get a grasp on the  true potential of its functionality––and most weed-related apps at scale––as the level of how chill different areas and states are with delivery weed varies.  Numerous Wikileaf searches for deals in or around my neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, yielded results 380 miles north, in San Francisco, or none at all. The current setup appears to require added effort on the end of the partner dispensaries, who are accustomed to selling a product that, regardless of price, has essentially sold itself for years. 

But as weed enters the sharing economy, and as more competitors enter weed, presentation of the product is indeed important.

Andrea Brooks of Savaan online marketplace  commonly described as the “Etsy of Weed”—tells me that her partner providers must undergo a long vetting process before their products are allowed on the site. Most Sava products are consumables after all. And also infused with cannabis.

The goods are delivered via next-day shipping.

It's an obvious understatement to say the weed world is on the precipice of change. The framework of a fully legal marijuana market and the regulatory structure is seemingly being built and torn down and written and rewritten on a daily basis. It’s no surprise that technology and concepts of the sharing economy have been embraced by the cannabis community. This synergy will certainly benefit cannabis entrepreneurs. But will mobile apps and home-grow operations ever replace the brick-and-mortar bud store or industrial cultivation warehouses altogether? Probably not. 

The future of marijuana is definitely mobile. But it's also vast and unpredictable, and there is no dealing in absolute. 

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