How Entrepreneurs Are Using Tech to Connect a Discreet Marijuana Industry
Michigan's medicinal marijuana industry could rightly be described as experiencing growing pains. Overzealous law enforcement and the pervasive stigma attached to cannabis use can drive patients to live in the shadows, while growers have a reasonable reluctance to reveal the exact location of their operations for fear of theft. Amid such uncertainty, it can be hard for cannabis-related businesses to find even basic services like pot-friendly electricians or plumbers.
It's that void in the marketplace that the Green Care Network aims to fill. The seed to sale marketing platform launched in September, and while cannabis-related location-based directories are nothing new, crucially, Green Care Network does so discreetly — with a focus on linking businesses to other businesses.
The platform was founded by Jerry (who declined to use his last name), who says as both a patient and grower he saw a gap in the market. "What I did was I developed a system built around me," he says. "How can I get my product out there without putting myself out there?"
Here's how it works: The site is divided into two separate networks. The front end is public, which lists dispensaries, delivery services, testing laboratories, and doctors based on the user's zip code. On the back end, businesses within the medical marijuana industry can connect with each other, linking growers and dispensaries with various contractors. Although the platform was developed in Michigan, it serves users across the country.
What this means is patients can vastly expand the products and services available to them — and businesses can vastly expand their reach.
"For example, a trimmer, he may have spent $10,000 on a piece of equipment, and you want to keep that equipment moving so that way you can continue to make money on it," Jerry says. "You can post your service online for other growers to look for those services, things that they need."
Likewise, a dispensary that was only able to acquire, say, 24 percent THC in their own network could now possibly have access to 26, 27, even 30 percent THC — improving the array of products they can offer.
For growers and certain "sensitive" user types, the only information needed is an email address and a zip code. If someone at a dispensary is interested in a product — say, a particular strain — they can click on "I'm interested," and their contact information is sent to the grower. The grower can then set the terms in how to establish contact, whether it be email, a ghost phone, or a face-to-face visit. "A grower, for example, you don't want your personal information out there," Jerry says. "That's one of the biggest risks."
Jerry says as a grower, he initially was only working with a few trusted dispensaries. However, this limited the amount of business he could do. "I kept wanting to expand my network, but I didn't know how," he says. "I didn't want to go door to door to dispensaries and put myself out there."
Originally, he says he developed his platform specifically for growers, but realized it could have other applications. "One day somebody would ask me, 'Do you have an electrician that you use that you can trust?'" he says. "And that's when the idea started to evolve into adding contractors on there."
But business is just one aspect of Green Care Network. Jerry says he also hopes to use the platform to help fight the stigma against cannabis use, so that users and growers don't feel like they have to hide anymore.
Jerry says he initially became a patient after being prescribed pain pills for 16 years to treat chronic injuries sustained in an accident. The effectiveness of the pills diminished as his tolerance grew, and he was looking for new options. At first, he wrote cannabis off entirely: Pot was for stoners, he said. But when he finally tried it, it changed his world, relieving him from pain for far longer than pain pills could.
But Jerry says he found the anti-cannabis stigma persists — even among people he later found himself doing business with. "To be honest, there are a lot of people in our industry who are against our industry because of the sheer lack of knowledge," he says. "People fear what they don't understand."
To combat that stigma, Green Care Network also features a blog, where contributors help spread awareness about cannabis. "The first objective is to make sure we are educating people on what they don't know," Jerry says. "We can easily go in and talk about how marijuana is great, and you can get super high, and this is the best strain to get completely wrecked. We could take that route, but we focus our attention on what is going to be the best medication for your condition."
For one of his first blog posts, Jerry says he wrote a short article on his first time in a grow shop. "I was completely terrified," he says. "The whole reason for that article was just to show people that when I went in, I was completely terrified that somebody would notice me. I'm not part of the hippy-type crowd. But when I walked in and saw the people who were there and shopping, they looked like any other person in a Wal-Mart or a Meijer."
A time when marijuana users could actually buy cannabis at a big-box chain like Meijer isn't too far-fetched, following the legalization trend in other states across the country. However, the Trump administration could provide a major setback — Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suggested a federal crackdown may be imminent.
In the meantime, entrepreneurs will have to keep growing in the shadows.