As blockchain technology and the cannabis industry mature, adoption grows near.
Illustrations by Zoë van Dijk
Now, perhaps more than ever, supply chain partners and customers want more information about industry practices and products.
Blockchain, steadily gaining adoption in other markets, could be the next game-changing technology for the cannabis industry. Proven in mainstream food safety, pharmaceuticals and other sectors, blockchain-powered platforms offer potential benefits for everyone, from breeders with new genetics to consumers shopping dispensary shelves.
Understanding Blockchain Basics
Cannabis attorney Braden Perry, partner at Kansas City, Mo., law firm Kennyhertz Perry, helps companies implement novel and emerging technologies, including blockchain. An expert in enforcement, digital currencies, and regulatory and compliance issues, Perry suggests the easiest way to envision blockchain is to think of it as a digital ledger—one that contains a series of unchangeable records.
Rather than transaction lines found in general financial ledgers, blockchain contains information packets called “blocks.” The blocks are connected chronologically to form a chain. They store a wide range of product-specific and transactional information, including the time and date for specific actions, product origin and process steps or product inputs. For the cannabis industry, critical data in a block might include genetic information, lab results, cultivation inputs, supply chain logistics, location tracking and consumer feedback. Blockchain has endless applications and can be used to record and track anything.
A typical end user of a product doesn’t see a block, they just see a software program interface. How the information “looks” to an end user will depend on how the blockchain-powered software product they’re using presents that data to them.
Unlike traditional databases, the blockchain ledger is decentralized. The information it holds is stored across multiple locations, entered by trusted partners and synchronized by consensus of those partners, protecting data integrity. Once created, a block cannot be changed. New data, including corrections to prior entries, result in new blocks. The original block remains constant, an immutable record of what’s within.
“From a seed-to-sale perspective, especially in today’s regulatory environment in the legal marijuana industry, the record-keeping and reporting is very complex,” Perry says. “This automated ledger ensures [information] cannot be altered from either an intentional standpoint, such as a forgery or other type of wrongdoing, or an unintentional standpoint, such as an error.”
Perry points out that many people erroneously believe that blockchain and cryptocurrency are synonymous. Larry Levy, CEO and co-founder of Lucid Green, also notes that many in the cannabis industry have struggled to separate the two concepts. While blockchain technology makes cryptocurrency possible, they are not the same. Blockchain, free from the risks and regulatory issues associated with cryptocurrencies, can just as easily power seed-to-sale tracking systems, genetic validation or transparency of lab results.
Lucid Green, a cannabis supply chain platform, launched in late 2018 with a blockchain-empowered product QR code aimed at brand-to-consumer and brand-to-budtender education and marketing—and a token-based rewards program. The platform received strong resistance from brands swayed by misconceptions about blockchain, Levy says. “It completely blew their minds,” he recalls. “They were in a high-risk industry anyway. Then here’s another thing they see as high risk.”
Now, Lucid Green keeps it simple. “We don’t bring up blockchain because [brands] are not interested in the technology,” Levy says.
The company’s private blockchain network operates as a centralized database for now. “But the minute the industry [matures] and can sustain and support decentralized, trusted actors putting data in, we’ll just switch that on,” he says.