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The AV World and Weed: Is Cannabis Technology A Market?

A lack of traditional AV integrators entering the cannabis market has given rise to smaller cannabis-specific digital display companies.

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The AV World and Weed: Is Cannabis Technology A Market?

An Ajoya dispensary in Colorado

The global weed market is … well … growing. So is the cannabis technology market growing, too?

Legal weed is projected to grow by 23.9% in 2025 from the $13.8 billion in 2018. So far, 11 U.S. states have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational use, while another 19 have legalized marijuana for medical use.

Canada legalized recreational marijuana in full last year, and other pockets of the world have opened their arms to legalized reefer.

Like it or not, weed is a legitimate business in the majority of the U.S. and other places around the world. Buying weed at licensed and regulated dispensaries is an experience, and one that lends itself to immersive technology.

However, it’s a market that many AV integrators haven’t even touched, largely due to the legal gray area of cannabis. In the U.S., marijuana is still illegal federally, but the feds generally don’t enforce that law in legal states.

Other countries have decriminalized it, but still don’t provide a legitimate pathway for making a living off growing and selling the plant.

If integrators are willing to put those concerns aside and take some calculated risks, they can enter a market that could skyrocket as cannabis becomes more mainstream.

Creating an immersive experience with cannabis industry technology

Although relatively small, the cannabis market is highly competitive and saturated in the areas where its legal. For example, established weed markets like Colorado and Oregon each have over 500 dispensaries.

Massachusetts, which allowed the first two stores to open in November 2018, has just 31 open recreational dispensaries, but more than 200 in the state’s lengthy licensing process.

In addition to growing some really strong bud, cannabis retailers are placing a big emphasis on the weed-buying process. With customer service and technology, dispensaries are making the process as easy and stress-free as possible.

In the early days of the legal weed market, digital signage highlights that technology.

Ping HD, a digital signage provider, markets its digital signage solutions to dispensaries all over the U.S. The company is based in Colorado and saw the opportunity as hundreds of dispensaries began to open in the state after voters there legalized cannabis in 2012.

“Our bread and butter is a menu board,” said Dave Petricig, director of channel sales.

The company’s digital signage solutions can be integrated with several different cannabis-specific point-of-sale platforms so the digital displays update almost instantly based on availability.

The company’s digital signage solutions can be integrated with several different cannabis-specific point-of-sale platforms so the digital displays update almost instantly based on availability.

The company is now laser focused on growing its presence in the market. In fact, cannabis tops the company’s industry list on its website.

“From a strategic perspective, it’s going to be a bigger focus of ours,” Petricig said. “We don’t care if it’s a McDonald’s or (weed retailer) Good Chemistry.”

Ping HD markets its digital signage to cannabis retailers the same way digital signage is marketed to other industries.

Displays can be used to promote new products, display real-time inventory, reinforce the company’s brand and interact with customers.

GreenScreens, located just a short drive away from Ping HD in Denver, has only ever been in the cannabis digital signage industry.

Martin DeFrance, sales director and co-founder of GreenScreens, joined the industry as a dispensary worker to get a pulse on the industry as he and his eventual business partner were looking for opportunities in the industry.

“We saw an opportunity in digital signage,” he said.

They eventually developed the software and systems and were accepted into a business accelerator that got the company in front of investors. Now, the company’s network spans more than 100 locations in legal weed markets in the U.S.

According to DeFrance, the company is so cannabis-specific that they can typically win out against more traditional AV integrators.

“There are specific challenges in this industry so you have to have that inside knowledge,” he said. “A one-size-fits-all solution geared towards an industry doesn’t have the focus on these problems.”

A stigma-crushing tool

If you ask older generations, a good chunk of them would tell you their tax dollars would be better spent on something other than regulating a substance that has been illegal for a long time.

After visiting a hair salon that offered interactive technology to help inform a customer’s purchase, he and a partner considered bringing a similar concept to three different industries: craft beer, wineries and weed.

Many in federal government still don’t support legalization. In many communities in the U.S. — including parts of CI’s backyard of Massachusetts — have banned the industry altogether.

Used currently, audiovisual cannabis technology tools can help erase that stigma and offer a seamless and stress-free buying experience.

Matt Cutone, founder and CEO of interactive display company Horizon Display started an entirely new company: Seed.

After visiting a hair salon that offered interactive technology to help inform a customer’s purchase, he and a partner considered bringing a similar concept to three different industries: craft beer, wineries and weed.

“Within 30 days, we decided on cannabis,” he said.

When Cutone and his team brought the idea to a cannabis trade show, they realized they could help remove the stigma.

The kiosk-style platform offers buying advice to both new and avid marijuana consumers, with the novice route offering educational content to help inform the new customer.

Related: Are Kids Damaging Their Brains By Using Too Much Technology?

The kiosk integrates with the dispensary’s POS and inventory management systems so the buyer is ensured that they’re buying something that’s actually in stock.

Cutone, who comes from the traditional audiovisual world, said the mainstream AV industry is hesitant to look at cannabis as a cash cow because of the federal illegality and the gray area when it comes to cannabis banking.

Lawmakers are making headway on providing safe banking services to the weed industry, but many bankers still treat the industry as illegal.

“If a bank catches wind (that you’re doing work in the cannabis industry), they might not lend you money,” Cutone said.

The industry is also incredibly young, and weed margins aren’t quite what they were projected given the high startup costs due to strict regulations and legal fees.

“This is the hardest industry I’ve ever operated in,” Cutone said.

Regulators need technology, too 

One of the few AV integrators that has just entered  the cannabis market is Pro AV Systems, a Massachusetts-based integrator, recently completed a comprehensive project for the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, the state agency that regulates and licenses marijuana growers, distributors and retailers.

The company outfitted the agency’s new Worcester, Mass. Headquarters with a slew of conferencing and video-streaming technologies including a three way divisible room utilizing Microsoft Teams room solutions from Crestron Electronics that can be combined into one big room.

Like Ping HD, GreenScreens and Seed, the company is embracing the marijuana industry and treating it as legal as any other legal market.

According to Ben Slattery, director of sales, the company is being approached by cannabis operators looking to outfit their dispensary and conference rooms with AV systems.

“It’s definitely a market where I see a lot of growth and opportunity,” Slattery said.

Chief Commercial Officer David Bishop echoed that sentiment, saying AV integrators should look for opportunities in any market, especially cannabis technology, regardless of public opinion.

“I would say they’re walking away from business,” Bishop said. “Supporting a legal business should never be a problem.”

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