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Cannabis Tech Coming in from the Shadows

Posted by Bill McRae Filed Under Content

For most people in the U.S., October 1st came and went much like any other day. Except here in Oregon. That Thursday was the day that recreational use of cannabis became legal in the state.

It’s been just three weeks since that day, and it’s been fascinating to witness how the business of legalized pot is manifesting itself, and to learn more about the amazingly sophisticated technologies that have been developed to support the once shadowy, now mainstream, pot industry.

It’s also interesting to observe how quickly nonchalance has replaced secrecy regarding casual pot smoking in public. A couple weeks ago, I was at a dinner party at a friend’s house at the Oregon coast. Eight of us were at the table, a group that included several medical professionals, a business owner, and a brewery executive, all folks somewhat north of 50 years old. We enjoyed a fine multi-course dinner and some splurge-y red wine.

Then before serving dessert, our hostess rose from the table, went into the living room and returned with a handsome wooden box. From it, she offered her guests a choice of fine organic pot varietals, along with a selection of vaporizers. All served up with the same dispassion as someone offering a choice of Earl Grey, Darjeeling or Orange Pekoe tea.

This same openness now applies to the technology companies that grew up around clandestine and medical marijuana industries. These companies can now operate in the open in Oregon, and their industry-specific technologies may soon find their way into the mainstream.

Pot driving tech innovation

By whatever measure you use, cannabis is big business. In the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana and the four states and the District of Columbia that have totally legalized pot, sales are estimated to reach $3.5 billion in 2015, up 33 percent over last year. And in Oregon, even before it was fully legalized, cannabis was estimated to be Oregon’s third largest agricultural cash crop.

Of course, cannabis production is in many ways just another form of agriculture. But because of its long history as an illegal substance and its quite finicky growth needs, marijuana cultivation is driving new breakthroughs in agricultural technology.

According to the article, “Legal Marijuana Cultivation is Driving a Technology ‘Revolution’ in Industrial Agriculture,” cannabis growers are at the cutting edge of ag tech for a number of reasons, but primarily because there’s simply so much money to be made. “Unlike tomato and pepper producers, cannabis growers boast wide profit margins, giving them a bigger budget for top-of-the-line technologies and a greater appetite for research and experimentation.”

Because the potential rewards are so great, more and more businesses are moving into the cannabis tech space, though the impacts and benefits may serve a broader market. “As more countries and U.S. states soften their policies on both medical and recreational marijuana, companies are racing to become the industry leaders in data-mining software, ultra-efficient lamps and water-sipping irrigation systems. These tools will benefit more than marijuana growers alone: Industrial food producers and tree growers could adapt the same technologies to cut energy costs and boost their crops. Operators of large buildings could use the systems to lower their electricity use.”

Home-grown pot technologies

The technologies associated with pot goes beyond just ag tech. Companies have formed to study cannabis genetics, provide new technologies for testing THC and CBD levels, and deliver database applications that can trace individual plants from seed to shelf.

It’s no surprise that Oregon, along with Colorado and Washington, are at the frontline of the new cannabis tech movement, as these states are pioneers in pot legalization and have surging startup tech sectors. Here is a snapshot of some of the new tech companies that have grown up to serve the new legal pot market.

  • Phylos Bioscience: A Portland-based company that uses cutting-edge genetic diagnostics to map the cannabis family tree. Phylos also provides research for the cannabis industry, including strain identification and sex determination of plants.
  • Surna: Based in Boulder, Colorado, Surna creates innovative energy- and resource-efficient cultivation solutions that meet the highly specific demands of a cannabis production through automated temperature, humidity, light and process control.
  • BioTrackTHC: With offices in Colorado and Washington State, BioTrackTHC provides inventory and sales management software solutions for the cannabis industry that links growers, processors and retail dispensaries together to ensure that the entire supply chain is monitored from seed-to-sale. The software also links directly to state traceability systems to provide regulatory agencies with real-time compliance data.
  • Cascadia Labs: Provides science-based quality assurance (including mold and pesticide detection) and potency testing for medicinal cannabis products. Based in Bend, Cascadia Labs also offers research and development capabilities.