Anyone doubting as to whether marijuana is big business or not need only look to Colorado. In the state there are more legal dispensaries than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined, accounting for more than $1B in sales in 2016 alone.

Following the 2016 election, one in five Americans now live in a state where it’s legal to use marijuana without a doctor’s prescription. Far from the stereotypical image of beach-bum surfers in Hawaiian shirts selling bongs, with the consumer market growing so quickly, the industry is being driven forward on an industrial scale by investor backed tech innovators.

And it’s not surprising that some of tech’s smartest minds are jumping in with two feet. Legal marijuana sales are projected to surpass $20B by 2021, four years before the global machine learning as a service market (MLaaS) is predicted to reach that value. With the United Nations estimating 3.8% of the world’s population use marijuana and with legalization spreading around the world, it seems investors and innovators have found their Acapulco gold mine.

Here are three hi-tech areas where technological innovation is driving growth in the legal marijuana industry:

Big Data

The ability to break down huge data sets into actionable insights has become a tech craze in the last decade – and duly so. As the marijuana industry grows, Big Data is also playing a key role in guiding smart and profitable business decisions for growers and dispensaries alike.

Growers and dispensaries are required to uphold pharmaceutical level testing of different plant strains and clearly, display THC levels and the physical and mental effects for the user. From Sativa to Indica, Green Crack to Cheese Quake, edibles to vape pens, different strains of marijuana, product types and methods of consumption are less or more popular with users from different demographics.

Marijuana farmers grow on a large scale, and it takes 3-5 months for plants to mature to the stage they can be cut, processed, transported and sold to dispensaries, which tend to buy in bulk from certified farmers who specialize in specific strains. As with any other type of consumer product, knowing which products are most popular with specific demographics is an important step in investing in the right products which will sell, and developing effective marketing campaigns. is a forerunner in the field of Big Data powered Marijuana industry intelligence. Created by the team behind Leafly, also known as the ‘Yelp of weed’, Headset allows growers and dispensaries to make data-driven decisions based on actionable data published in real-time.

Aside from allowing players to stay one step ahead of trends by highlighting which strains, brands and products are most popular, where and with whom, the software allows dispensaries to keep track of their own progress, and compare it to that of their competitors to help them with brand positioning, pricing, and marketing towards new and existing customers.

Big Data is also playing an important role in changing public perception about a product which was villainized and aggressively criminalized in the US within recent memory and remains illegal in many parts of the country. Gretchen Gailey, vice president of communications at New Frontier, argues that big data is especially important for industries as misunderstood as the cannabis industry, and will play in major role in convincing non-believers in the plant’s medical value:

Gailey states, “Big data enables statistically meaningful analysis that will advance this research despite the lack of rigorous scientific methodology applied to the plant and its application, and will also provide a strong basis from which to propel clinical research once it becomes legal,”

The IoT

Throughout history, agriculture has been at the forefront of technological advancement. The world’s population is steadily growing, and as such the food supply must grow too. Smart agriculture tools are becoming commonplace for farmers, and a big part of this has to do with the Internet of Things (IoT) allowing farmers to automate and control farms remotely. The marijuana industry is no different.

Startups like Edyn are creating sensors for larger scale projects which use wi-fi connected farm sensors to stream real time temperature, light, humidity, and soil acidity data to the central cloud, which can then be used by farmers to to optimize, regulate, and automate the entire harvest cycle based on data from thousands of different sources.

However, while useful to growers, the IoT is being used in different ways too. Radio frequency identification technology (RFID) is being used to digitally track individual cannabis plants from seed to sale to combat illegal sales and ensure product quality. Using unique 24-digit ID number RFID tags linked to an official government digital database, the movement of products can be tracked, and dispensaries can check the exact chemical compounds of products online pre-purchase.

Government compliance is extremely important for marijuana growers and dispensaries, who risk large fines, criminal charges and retracted licenses if they don’t play by the rules. Zach Howell from La Conte’s Clone Bar and Dispensary in Denver argues his team saved hundreds of hours of lost productivity by using Flowhub RFID automated tag system to maintain compliance with Colorado regulations.

In the field of Meditech, wireless EEG devices implants from companies like BrainBot are allowing medical practitioners to monitor the effects of cannabis treatment on users over time, helping them find the correct dosages and strains to deal with a patient’s particular ailment. By comparing the patient’s brain physiology with different thousands of other profiles, BrainBot can detect electro-neuro-physiological deviations and recommend the best strains for the patient’s brain.

Telemedicine/virtual doctors

When marijuana was legalized for medical use, patients were required to make physical appointments with a doctor to be certified as suitable for a medical marijuana card. However, for sufferers of long term illnesses and painful, chronic conditions, this system still required a lot of effort and time spent traveling to and from clinics and waiting for appointments.

To streamline the system, and allow users to take advantage of consultations with qualified medical staff from the comfort of their own home, there has been a rise of telemedicine companies that connect users with doctors via video chat.

While marijuana is legal without  recommendation in many states in the U.S., for people who use the plant for medical rather than recreational purposes, it is important to consult a professional to check marijuana is the correct treatment for an ailment, is compatible with any other medicines being used, and also for recommendations about strengths, strands, dosages and methods of consumption.

Companies such as Eaze – which also supplies on demand cannabis product deliveries -, Meadow MD and a range of new start-ups such as our own PrestoDoctor, allow users to be approved for medical marijuana use online, after a consultation with a certified doctor via video chat.

Patients undertake a ‘good faith exam’ which outlines their medical history, and any history of mental illness, or allergies to medications. Doctors will then assess whether their ailment or condition is suitable for treatment with cannabis, and then recommend the best products, strengths, and dosages based on the user’s profile. After making an online payment, the user will then be issued with a certificate which can be used in any medical dispensary in their state.

Assuming that they already have a medical card, or are in a state where recreational use has been legalized, an app called Potbot acts as a virtual assistant to help users choose the right strands, and chemical profiles of the ever emerging range of options which can help them with common health problems. Aside from highlighting the most suitable strands, the bot also recommends local dispensaries or licensed clinics where they can find their desired medicine.

As legalization spreads and the consumer market grows, we are only likely to see more and more technological innovation in the cannabis industry. With increased transparency, and sharing of data between growers and dispensaries, and their consumers, tech innovation can improve safety, and make sure that users are taking the right amount of the right medicine with no risks to their mental or physical health.

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