Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
China’s internet does not contain many popular sites found in the rest of the world. For years, strong censorship provisions and interception protocols allowed massive firewalls to block most Western websites and applications. Thus, China does not have the same popular apps we use so often in the U.S. In the absence of established apps, a super app was created in China — WeChat — one of the world’s most prominent data collectors that software companies worldwide are watching.
WeChat combines almost every single app in one. Instead of having various applications for specific uses (i.e., Facebook, WhatsApp, iMessage, Tinder, Venmo, Instacart, ZocDoc, DoorDash), Chinese citizens access all those services through WeChat, without ever leaving the app.
In a video segment, the New York Times once referred to WeChat as a distinctive creature in its own unique lagoon (China’s internet), waiting to be released into the ocean (the rest of the worldwide internet). If WeChat is released globally, it could potentially threaten the aforementioned single-solution apps with its advanced technology and strong and large user base.
The concept of WeChat is not so different from what’s happening in the cannabis technology lagoon created by the ongoing U.S. federal versus state cannabis legalization conflict. Because the federal government has not yet legalized cannabis, most traditional technology companies have been averse to serving cannabis clients and creating cannabis technology solutions within their established frameworks. This void of traditional offerings has led to the rise of many cannabis technology solutions, some of which, like WeChat, bring unique technology and an established client base as they wait to be released into the ocean of traditional tech competition after potential U.S. federal legalization.
Since states legalized first, the federal government would likely need to play catch-up if decriminalized at the federal level, which is part of the goal of the recently introduced Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAO). This bill, penned by Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, in addition to seeking federal legalization in the U.S., aims to address other industry-critical issues, including decriminalization, social equity, taxation, regulation, consumer safety, reform of banking laws, investment in research, authorized medical use access to veterans and interstate commerce.
While many cannabis technology and ancillary solutions exist solely to remedy issues caused by the lack of federal legalization, others have been preparing for this inflection point in the industry. From my perspective, the industry should prioritize the creation of an ecosystem of cannabis business tools that offer a one-stop tech solution for any cannabis operator seeking to launch a startup or grow their existing operation in the current and legal future. Cannabis ecosystems could be “released” to the rest of the legalized country, providing cannabis operators in freshly legal markets with the advantage of adopting the already developed and trusted offerings.
In this way, these cannabis technology businesses are like WeChat — distinctive creatures in a unique lagoon, waiting to be released into the more immense ocean. Also, like WeChat, these businesses have developed valuable and innovative offerings and already gained a strong and loyal client base. The creatures who have been comfortably living in the traditional ocean where cannabis is not yet legal will have to work around the unique “lagoon” ecosystems once merged.
There are steps that cannabis businesses operating in legal markets can take to make the crucial decision of what technologies upon which they can rely today. As they consider their business in the potential post-legal world, it is imperative to leverage a cannabis technology ecosystem that can support them now and at the inflection point of potential federal legalization.
Cannabis businesses should consider technologies that will scale with them as they grow, or they risk potentially losing to competition in the future. Given the developing nature of the industry, brands should continually evaluate their technology to ensure continued compliance, future abidance by regulations and that their tools fit with their brand’s goals and mission.
By constructing such an ecosystem, cannabis businesses looking to propel their companies would be able to adopt these future-forward cannabis technology offerings in our own cannabis tech “lagoon.”