Microsoft is going where most other tech companies fear to tread — into the legal cannabis business.
No, they aren't going to be selling, buying or even handling any marijuana, but the New York Times reports that they are building a platform for software to assist states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana keep track on the various stages of commerce. The goal is to make sure everything is legal, stays legal and it is all on record.
To do this, Microsoft is partnering with Kind a company who built software to track legal marijuana from "seed to sale" for local and state government agencies. Kind's government solutions department says their mission is to help the cannabis industry to transact safely; transact securely, and stay in compliance with the rules and regulations governing marijuana-related businesses. Microsoft will leverage their cloud platform Azure to facilitate and expand the services, and will be actively marketing it in states where marijuana is legal at some level. Microsoft will not be working with Kind's Kiosk division or any point of sale services — this is strictly for government agencies.
Since marijuana is illegal at the federal level, businesses built around it have a difficult time when it comes to transactions with banks or lenders, as well as finding companies that will assist in staying compliant. Microsoft's move into the field is a big step towards legitimizing the industry and building a stable infrastructure for regulatory needs is a significant step towards changing the status-quo. Green Wave Advisors' founder Matthew Karnes, who provides analytical data for the cannabis industry, praised the Redmond tech giant for the move.
It's very telling that a company of this caliber is taking the risk of coming out and engaging with a company that is focused on the cannabis business.
Karnes suggests that legal marijuana sales will reach $6.5 billion in 2016, and says the number could climb to $25 billion annually by 2020 with more states voting to allow recreational sales of marijuana. With 25 states allowing the sale of marijuana for medical or recreational use, and five others — including California — to vote on regulated recreational sales this fall. The industry is indeed growing, and the days of cash-only sales are over. Microsofts steps should prove a boon to all involved, and will likely lead the way for other tech companies to get involved in a thriving new industry.