Can New Jersey Attract Cannabis Tech Companies? –

Can New Jersey Attract Cannabis Tech Companies? –

Morris Chamber of Commerce Meeting Discussion

By Marc Weinstein

Like other
industries, the cannabis trade is using advanced technologies to dramatically change
the way it grows and sells its product to consumers.

The use of robots
to grow pot and mobile marijuana cafés to gather and analyze data on users’
behavior are just two of the tech innovations that a top industry expert discussed
at the Morris Chamber of Commerce meeting on June 18, held in Florham Park.

David Serrano, chief
technology officer of Denver-based Harvest
360 Technologies
, a management consulting firm for cannabis companies,
spoke on how technology is impacting the weed business.

At the meeting,
attorneys, technologists, pharmaceutical representatives, cannabis dispensary
workers and others listened intently as Serrano rattled off a list of cannabis-related
technologies, all transforming the way this leafy and much-maligned plant will
be used to meet the widely anticipated heavy demand for both medical and adult recreational

The flourishing
cannabis business is a boon for tech companies, which are providing everything
from artificial intelligence (AI) to blockchain technologies to help grow and
sell marijuana. Some published industry reports project that the cannabis
business will hit around $15 billion globally this year and could more than
triple that amount within the next decade.

Using Automation Tech and AI to Grow Cannabis

Serrano said that one of those cannatech companies is Grownetics (Boulder, Colo.), which uses automation technology and AI to grow marijuana. With this technology, cannabis growers can improve security, lower energy use and reduce other operational costs, thus becoming more profitable in a competitive market, he added.

Grownetics utilizes the information from AI to track plant growth rates, detect potential nutrient deficiencies and even tell which bugs are feasting on the plants.

Genetic science is also being used to help cannabis growers differentiate their product in an increasingly saturated marketplace. Though it’s very difficult for U.S. producers to obtain a patent on pot seeds, according to Serrano, they can produce their own cannabis strains by “turning off and on” their plants’ genetic code, giving their weed unique characteristics that will distinguish it from competitors’ products.   

Collecting data on
consumer behavior is essential for any business, especially for the emerging cannabis
industry, which is aggressively seeking the valuable customer information
needed to grow into new and existing markets.

Hot Box, a Denver-based
cannatech firm, is building its business on the belief that the best way to
learn more about consumer behavior is within a social setting, said Serrano. The
firm has built mobile cannabis clubs that collect data on users’ behavior and
can be easily moved from one location to another.

Most Cannatech Firms Waiting to Come to New Jersey

As for New Jersey,
it probably will take some time before the state attracts any significant cannatech
firms, as they have little incentive to do business here until the state
legalizes adult recreational cannabis use and significantly expands the
availability of medical marijuana.

There are some New
Jersey enterprises that aren’t waiting for state to give the green light on cannabis-related
business activities.

One of them is
Applied Cannabis Sciences of New Jersey (ACS), a Woodland Park-based company
that has recently inked a deal with a Canadian-based investment firm.

Earlier this year,
ACS announced that it would file an application with the state’s department of
health to open and operate cannabis businesses. New Brunswick-based
pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is conducting research on
cannabinoids (chemical compounds found in the cannabis flower), though that
work is being done in Canada.      

For the most part,
said Serrano, the state is lagging behind in the cannatech sector because of the
sector’s hazy future in what he termed as the “green rush.”

Serrano thinks
that, as a result, cannatech firms will continue to operate mostly in Western states,
where both recreational and medical cannabis are legal, and in other countries
like Canada, which legalized weed last year.

Amid widespread
speculation that New Jersey will be one of the next states to join the
spreading U.S. legalization of weed, the state appears to be in no hurry to be
added to that list.

After the state
legislature failed to legalize marijuana this spring, this hot-button issue is
expected to go before voters in a referendum in 2020. And although some recent
polls show many New Jersey residents supporting state-sanctioned recreational
cannabis sales, it’s still a toss-up whether legalization will win voter
approval next year.

When asked by an
audience member why the state continues to drag its heels on licensing pot
shops, Serrano, a medical cannabis user, replied, “New Jersey wants to put more
power in fewer hands and to monitor the program more easily.”             

John Kullmann, vice
president of technology solutions at Parsippany-based software firm Macrosoft, which helped organize the
talk, agreed that the prospects of New Jersey becoming a cannatech hub look
promising. “There’s going to be a lot of industries that will pop up here to
support this industry.”

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