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The big greenfield cannabis cloud

Andrew C. Oliver | Sept. 11, 2015
How marijuana growers are leveraging big data analytics and cloud computing to boost productivity and sales.

The big greenfield cannabis cloud

Imagine an agribusiness that never had access to a modern commodities market and had never used any real information technology. Suddenly, it had the opportunity to leap into high tech and potentially enjoy whole new economies of scale -- a pure greenfield proposition. What would happen?

With new international and state legalization, as well as a current moratorium on federal enforcement, marijuana is that agribusiness. Untouched by the traditions of an internal IT practice, it's creating a road map for the future, charted almost entirely in the cloud.

Out of the filing cabinet and into the cloud

To be clear, trepidation remains about digitizing the business side of cannabis. Ask Eddie Miller, CEO of eCann, which runs a site called Investincannabis.com:

Because of the gray area in the laws, I find that a lot of the actual vendors, the retailers, the cultivators are reluctant to go into the cloud, put their data into the cloud, to share this type of information and to have digital records of it.

Nonetheless, with multistate legalization and optimism that federal legalization will follow, some organizations have started moving to the cloud and integrating analytical technologies.

eCann uses Salesforce along with an ecosystem of marketing tools to find interested buyers and investors. The founders are hosting an event during the Dreamforce conference for cannabis investors.

This has raised interesting legal questions. Since the cannabis business is illegal federally and in most of the United States, what is the legal exposure to third-party vendors like Salesforce? I asked Salesforce for a comment on whether it was encouraging cannabis growers and dealers to use its platform. Despite multiple attempts, the company failed to get back to me, saying it was unlikely to meet my deadline even after I extended it.

Baby steps

Legal ambiguity has kept most of the business side of cannabis in file folders or personal cellphones.

There are, however, exceptions. I spoke to the folks from Grow Buddy, and they described their back end as a Cold Fusion, SQL Server, and .Net on some cloud infrastructure. (Ironically, the last time someone told me they were planning to use Cold Fusion, I asked them if they were smoking something.)

Grow Buddy is an app designed to let home growers record the parameters of their "grow," such as nutrients, watering, and size. At the moment, the app doesn't support cross-user analytics -- many customers regard this as proprietary information. The team wouldn't reveal where its back end was hosted, other than to say it was a cloud provider and not colocated, regarding that as both a security and privacy issue.

 

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