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The Future Is Here: AI & Cannabis 

AI & cannabis

In The Magazine

The Future Is Here: AI & Cannabis 

Experts weigh in on how artificial intelligence can drive innovation and growth in the (mostly) unprepared industry. 

As we enter the ten-year anniversary of the first two states to legalize cannabis (Washington and Colorado), the industry finds itself in a brand-new chapter. Gone are the days of it being a minuscule industry in only a handful of places; adult use cannabis is now legal in 24 states plus DC, and once strongly prohibitionist states now have legitimate medical cannabis programs. The industry employs nearly 430,000 people and is estimated to reach nearly $32 billion in annual sales by the end of 2023. Now, as the American cannabis industry ventures into this exciting new frontier, tech-minded pot professionals may be wondering how the advent and widespread usage of artificial intelligence (AI) systems could benefit or impact this rapidly expanding industry.

There are some facets in which AI systems may potentially be able to assist the many departments of legal cannabis operations. For example, a modern AI system could perfectly control the precise farming and environmental conditions required for quality cannabis cultivation. Another Chat GPT-like artificial intelligence system could serve a budtender role in a dispensary and similarly recommend products based on the consumer’s preferences or needs. 

There are numerous ways that AI systems could streamline manufacturing and retail inventory practices, and there are plenty of creative uses that those systems could utilize for sales and marketing purposes. AI systems can assist in proper compliance of the very strict and numerous regulations that cannabis companies must operate under.

As a career professional with nearly three decades of experience in the cannabis field, Green Rush Consulting Founder and CEO Zeta Ceti has already seen cannabis businesses implement AI-related systems in many practical ways. Most commonly, AI systems are helping cannabis business owners expedite and organize the multitude of state-mandated actions that can be stressful and tedious. 

“Before we had the widespread blastoff of AI, it was very much used in cultivation technology and different types of hardware technology related to how you optimize the internal performance systems related to those production processes,” Ceti says. “What’s happening right now is that if you don’t take advantage of the generative AI systems that are out there for marketing purposes or compliant documentation purposes such as SOPs, it’s the old world you’re working in. Now that you have access to different levels of technology for these functions, it’s sped those processes up. If business owners aren’t using this system, they’re missing out on a complete way to enhance and optimize the functions of their internal processes.”

Ceti predicts that, eventually, AI systems could serve in many dispensary and retail-related functions while simultaneously conducting research on different cannabinoid formulations. New Frontier Data CEO Gary Allen also believes artificial intelligence applications can be useful in cannabis across several departments. 

“From the grow to the store shelf, AI can identify the best strains for the best-resulting products matched to the consumers specific to a region, or a profile or an ailment or a result,” Allen says. Again, this question could be the answer to thousands of problem constructs that in the past would take years to perfect. AI has the capability to improve every aspect of this industry.” 

By using AI and machine learning systems, Allen says New Frontier Data collects an amazing amount of data and uses it to create detailed reports on all matters related to cannabis business, manufacturing and sales. “From the early days of teaching our platforms how to ingest this data from hundreds of different sources with Machine Learning to NLP capabilities with AI, we have and will continue to be a leader in how AI is used to inform this market,” he says. 

Possibly a testament to AI’s potential in the US cannabis industry, Green Rush Consulting produced the Oddysee AI system earlier this year. The multi-layered system is a generative AI chatbot interface built from training datasets created by seasoned cannabis professionals from every sector of the industry. Because the interface was constructed from direct experience and information from the cannabis industry, the system will have the ability to give precise and crafted responses to the many types of inquiries that employees and users will have.  

Whether it’ll require employee training, cannabis-related education for workers and consumers alike, or the stringent and arduous process that’s the receipt of a cannabis license, Oddysee AI’s system will provide much-needed assistance in several aspects of business ownership and operation.

“We’re able to provide education, training and support on a DIY basis for customers so they can learn from the curated data specifically on these processes,” Oddysee says. “It reduces the overall financial barrier to entry, so it could support more social equity applicants and applicants in general by reducing that financial risk with not being guaranteed a license.”     

However, given how much proper AI technology is still in its infancy, Ceti says leaving room for error will be necessary as both this technology and the cannabis industry in general are in their formative years. 

“It takes time for the AI system to genuinely understand what’s right or wrong, so you’re going to have to make corrections at first,” Ceti says. “It’s an evolution over time in terms of accurate data.” 

For cannabis industry employees especially, there are also concerns over human employment versus technological automation. If an AI system could correctly answer customer questions and make appropriate recommendations, that may eventually replace budtenders and it could be a similar story with inventory and cultivation technicians once these interfaces can fulfill the relevant duties. However, Ceti advises that companies take a proactive approach to AI implementations and how that technology alters current business operations.  

“It’s all about refinement, optimization and learning how to empower your workforce instead of cutting your workforce,” Ceti says. “When we can apply that mentality around how budtenders work with customers, I truly believe that it’ll optimize the customer experience so that they’re more educated by the time they get to budtenders and then the budtenders can work much more effectively at serving a multitude of customers.”

Ceti emphasizes the broadness of future possibilities that comes from AI implementation. With modern companies such as Boston Dynamics producing fully functional robots, robotic cannabis trimmers and packagers shouldn’t be considered out of the realm of eventual possibility. With inevitable federal legalization being but a matter of time, cannabis-centric AI interfaces could potentially make scientific or medicinal discoveries about the plant. 

“I see AI playing a major role in everything to do with cannabis,” Ceti says. “Every role in the supply chain, in the customer experience, in the production process and even in every scientific role.”

But the question must be asked: Is cannabis ready for the AI revolution?

This story was originally published in issue 49 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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