Commercial success in any market — including cannabis — hinges in part on companies’ command of technology. Research and development, sales, marketing, management — all of it contributes mightily towards business triumphs, but if technology falls flat all of those key efforts could fail. Fatally. 

Navigating tech is challenging for all businesses. But the difficulties are especially daunting in cannabis, where regulatory demands and bifurcated legal situations complicate technology strategies even further.

“It’s crucial to get compliant, advanced technology into place as the regulations become more solidified and companies like Caliva grow into different areas of the industry. It’s a been a beast of a project to manage, but so exciting at the same time,” explains Matt McLean, Chief Technology Officer at Caliva. 

Despite the manifold snags it is possible to isolate the key tech take-aways for cannabis companies. Manage these issues with muscle and savvy and all of the other work that goes into building a successful cannabis business flows freely, rather than being stuck at a roadblock.

It’s All About Seed-To-Sale

Seed-to-sale technologies keep track of the many steps of the cannabis market, from growing the plant to saying goodbye to a happy customer after a purchase. Growers, producers and dispensaries all depend upon different kinds of seed-to-sale technologies. And regulators turn to companies’ inventory-tracking systems to make sure rules and regulations are being followed; that the Black Jack seed planted on February 1 in our Caliva grow ends up turning into 112 grams of dried, cured bud for sale at a dispensary. Before launching into cannabis technology, make seed-to-sale top-of-mind — always. Look for technology solutions that understand the complexities of the cannabis market, and tout their seed-to-sale capabilities. At Caliva, we use Trellis, a cloud based software that is truly a comprehensive tracking software that begins at the seed and tracks products through our vertically integrated facility. 

“Trellis is the most comprehensive tracking software in the cannabis market to date and it’s been beneficial for us to work closely with them in this monumental time of legalization,” Matt McLean explains. 

Pay Close Attention to METRC

States choose different seed-to-sale tracking systems for their regulatory agencies, and California selected METRC, a web-based platform that integrates state regulations — in this case, California’s — with the web of cannabis companies that are part of the compliance network. Colorado, often held up as a national model for cannabis regulations, was the first to embrace METRC.

The foundation of the METRC system are RFID tags that get attached to every plant and product. They aren’t cheap — between $.25 and $.45 each (it adds up fast) — and are essential. Make sure you stock-up on tags as often as possible — running out of them means business comes to a halt.

The state is offering resources to help cannabis entrepreneurs understand METRC. It’s not live yet, but should become a part of most cannabis businesses in coming weeks. Grow familiar with all-things-METRC. If you own a dispensary, production facility, distribution service or grow understanding METRC will prove essential.

Make Sure Everything Speaks the Same Language

Companies in all industries, from alcohol to restaurants to accounting firms, must pay close attention to the way their systems integrate. In fact, “systems integration” is such a vital part of business that it is an entire area of business in its own right. With cannabis and its quirky “seed-to-sale” requirements, the pitfalls of slapping together a hodgepodge of technologies that fail to speak the same language rises. With each tech decision, make sure the new addition speaks to the rest of the puzzle before making a purchase. And keep in mind: seed-to-sale determines much about the technology framework. Networking the many parts of the technology puzzle in cannabis is less straightforward than it is for other industries, due to seed-to-sale.

The Banking Angle

Since the federal government has not yet legalized cannabis, banking and credit card transactions are extremely challenging for cannabis businesses. Yet it is through banking and credit cards that, in the rest of the commercial world, so much tracking automatically takes place. As a result, typical retail point-of-sale (POS) systems are insufficient. This is one area where cannabis companies, particularly dispensaries, should seek solutions designed for their industry.

Daily Reporting for Dispensaries

What happens to display cannabis? Returns? They must be tracked, along with every sale made by a dispensary. Every day. This is a burden unique to the cannabis industry, but technology companies have risen to the challenge. Dropping the ball on the daily reporting could come easy, but with the right technology the reporting should be seamless.

Inventory Matters

It’s not just those sales of low-dose Petra mints and the eighths of Blue Dream for which retailers must account — they also need to stay on top of inventory, and report inventory to the state every 14 days. This work requires physical counting of inventory in the store that then gets reconciled with inventory data. Make sure the inventory part of the technology is easy to use. Employees will toggle between their own counts and the software twice a month.

Integrating POS Software with Websites

Rules about marketing punish cannabis companies in different ways — everything from what kinds of images can be used in ads to arbitrary rules on social media platforms about what cannabis companies can and cannot do.

But if leveraged properly, websites can be like small media properties. And research shows that cannabis consumers do frequent dispensary websites more than they might that of a local wine shop or sporting goods store.

Websites matter in cannabis, and integrating POS software — which tracks inventory — with website content can be helpful. Consumers really do visit those dispensary online stores to see what strains and chocolates are available. When deciding up on POS software, explore how well they integrate with online stores, as well as third-party listing services like Weedmaps. Improving connections between the website and POS software can prove immensely helpful and time-consuming.

In short, “You have to get your stuff together before it’s too late,” McLean warns. 

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