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The War Against Cannabis Is Over (If We Want It)

By Jessica Billingsley, CEO of Akerna Corp (NASDAQ: KERN), exclusively for Benzinga Cannabis.

Benzinga · 01/24/2020 00:40

By Jessica Billingsley, CEO of Akerna Corp (NASDAQ: KERN), exclusively for Benzinga Cannabis.

Cannabis has been demonized and persecuted like few other substances in our society. Often, I hear it compared to alcohol during the “noble experiment” of Prohibition, when drinking spirits was criminalized, largely due to cultural stigmas of the time. But even Prohibition was reversed after just 13 years and widely deemed a failure.

Cannabis has been federally outlawed for 83 years, since 1937. It’s also been 24 years since California first made medical cannabis legal in 1996. Still today, stigma thrives. The cannabis industry—which has proven its legitimacy time and again—contends with attacks on multiple fronts: politicized pseudoscience, the lingering sociocultural influence of Puritanism and abstemiousness, an inability to access banking services and more.

As a cannabis industry leader for more than a decade, I know the immense positive impact that a responsible, regulated, accountable and transparent industry can make. I believe deeply that we’re capable of great societal good.

In order for cannabis to become fully legitimized in the eyes of regulators and the public, however, it needs to be underpinned by serious technological innovation that guarantees transparency and responsible business practices. Our industry hasn’t been idle on this front. We’ve been constantly pushing forward to build a market that works for everyone, from consumers and growers to regulators and retailers. Here’s how we’ve done it.

Transparency Is The Backbone Of A Trusted Industry

In the U.S., the true battle for legitimacy is won or lost in the court of consumer opinion. Consumers have increasingly fought for their right to provenance in what they put on or in their bodies, and in order to earn the trust of consumers today, transparency is paramount. The mark of any legitimate business is its ability to quickly meet consumer demand in an informed and curated way. This is why cannabis companies are pioneering new manufacturing methods that deliver a wider variety of products and product information to consumers.

With Akerna’s MJ Platform, pull a gummy out of any package of cannabis edibles, and if it’s tracked with our system, I can tell you what farm it was grown on, what nutrients it was grown with, the flower-to-oil processing method, what other ingredients went into the gummy, where it was sold and more. This product visibility, once a luxury, is increasingly important for consumers. MIT Sloan School of Management found that consumers may be willing to pay 2 to 10 percent more for products from companies that provide greater supply chain transparency.

More and more, savvy cannabis business professional are demanding demand rich, meaningful data to make smarter business decisions. Sophisticated IT is helping them understand consumer demand, manage inventory and forecast trends — allowing them to engage with consumers in a bespoke manner at the point of sale, and in turn further establish themselves as serious and legitimate business owners.

Consumers Have A Right To Responsible Producers

Consumers need to know that if a problem does arise, the cannabis industry will move swiftly and decisively to protect them. With this same tracing technology, we have the key product data that, in the event of a crisis, would allow us to quickly and accurately identify the culprit and take appropriate measures. Few things have the potential to undermine a nascent industry like the actions of a few bad apples who cannot be differentiated from reputable businesspeople. Take the recent high-profile coverage of vaping-related illnesses and deaths: Investigators have targeted vape products containing additives such as vitamin E acetate as a possible culprit, but many consumers now view all vaping products with suspicion. Our tracing technology would help prevent this type of situation from arising in the cannabis industry.

I saw this coming back in 2010, at the start of the legal cannabis industry. I was standing in one of the very first licensed cannabis businesses in Colorado, surrounded by marijuana plants, when I realized business owners and the public needed more visibility into this part of our young business: not just product information at the point of sale, but across the entire supply chain. Smart applications of technology that verify traceability, I realized, could greatly minimize the potential for these types of crises.

I believed then, as I do now, that data-driven transparency and visibility from seed-to-sale would provide safeguards to help propel the cannabis industry forward toward broader legalization. The strides we’re making now toward boosting efficiency, elevating security and ensuring patient and product safety will have implications far beyond this industry. From poultry to produce to packaged goods, improved supply chain management can deliver better results to producers, as well as greater peace of mind to consumers, who increasingly want to know more about what they’re putting in their bodies and bringing into their homes.

What’s Ahead

While we’ve always had the right to this type of transparency, we haven’t always had the means to it. Now, we do. The cannabis industry continues to push forward, and the innovations we embrace will be the building blocks of more responsible, regulated, transparent and accountable industries across the board. And these innovations will make it easier to convince skeptical politicians on both sides of the aisle that the time is now for the federal legalization of cannabis.

Cannabis remains an extremely exciting industry. Slowly but surely, we are seeing the tides turn. The economic benefit of cannabis is being realized by society and recognized on a bipartisan basis. The medical benefits—to treat a variety of illnesses, including opioid addiction—are also becoming apparent. Finally, state by state, we are marching toward federal legalization, with nearly a dozen states voting to legalize recreational or medical cannabis use in 2020. Around the world, the legitimacy of cannabis also continues to take root.

These wins are because the private sector is giving the broader public a reason to believe. Change is coming. We need to create the industry we want to see in the future today.

Lead image by Ilona Szentivanyi. Copyright: Benzinga

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.