Microsoft enters the marijuana business


As state after state in the US has legalised marijuana in one way or another, big names in corporate America have stayed away entirely. Marijuana, after all, is still illegal, according to the federal government.

But Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale”, as the pot industry puts it.

The software -a new product in Microsoft’s cloud computing business -is meant to help states that have legalised the medical or recreational use of marijuana keep tabs on sales and commerce.

But until now, even that boring part of the pot world was too controversial for mainstream companies. It is apparent now, though, that the legalisation train is not slowing down: This fall, at least five states, including California, will vote on whether to legalise marijuana for recreational use.

Microsoft’s entry into the government compliance side of the business suggests the beginning of a legitimate infrastructure for an industry that has been growing fast and attracting lots of attention, both good and bad. “We do think there will be significant growth,” said Kimberly Nelson, the executive director of state and local government solutions at Microsoft. “As the industry is regulated, there will be more transactions, and we believe there will be more sophisticated requirements and tools down the road.”

Microsoft’s baby step into the business came through an announcement on Thursday that it was teaming up with a Los Angeles start-up, Kind, that built the software the tech giant will begin marketing and offer a range of products, including ATM-style kiosks that facilitate marijuana sales, working through some of the state-chartered banks that are comfortable with such customers

Microsoft will be working with Kind’s “government solutions” division, offering software only to state and local governments that are trying to build compliance systems. But for the young and eager legalised weed industry, Microsoft’s willingness to attach its name to any part of the business is a big step forward.

Matthew A Karnes, the founder of Green Wave Advisors, which provides data and analysis of the marijuana business said, “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.”

David Dinenberg, the founder and chief executive of Kind, said it had taken a lot of courting of big-name companies to persuade the first one to get on board. It’s hard to know if other corporate giants have provided their services quietly ways to cannabis purveyors.

The Kind software will be one of eight pieces of preferred software that Microsoft will offer to users of Azure Government -and the only one related to marijuana