“Breaking Changes” with Ellis Smith: rethinking the cannabis industry using APIs


In the latest episode of Breaking Changes, I talked with Ellis Smith from the American Cannabis Company about the role of technology in the cannabis industry. It can be tough to imagine the intersection of the two when one is still illegal in more than half of the states in the US. But once you start talking with experts like Ellis, you begin to see a landscape of many different types of APIs that provide a variety of digital resources and capabilities. In our Breaking Changes conversation, Ellis took me through some of the familiar aspects of the cannabis industry and also introduced me to some emerging technologies I hadn’t considered.

Combining high-tech industries

The cannabis industry uses technology in a variety of ways, including online sources of information, on-the-ground grow operations, and regulation of the controversial industry at the county, state, and federal levels. Ellis reminded me that this isn’t the world of stoned hippies or drug dealers that some might be picturing. The modern cannabis industry is a combination of high-tech agriculture and manufacturing. Not only do APIs gather information and data, they also help manage the physical aspects of the supply chain. After talking with Ellis, I did some scratching and discovered entire API-driven indoor agriculture systems that are helping cannabis take its place alongside other agricultural commodities as the space becomes a billion-dollar agribusiness.

Driving innovation in financial technology

Ellis also introduced me to the fintech platforms that have emerged to support the needs of cannabis growers. Fintech startups like Abaca and Dama Financial have launched to fill the credit card and banking needs of growers. Because cannabis is a federally controlled substance, US banks can’t do business with cannabis growers. A new breed of fintech platforms is developing to help growers accept credit cards, have bank accounts, and behave as you’d expect of any mainstream business. Even with the stance of the federal government, states like California are launching their own APIs to help regulate this exploding new business as it comes out of the shadows to become a real sector.

Using API-driven technology to stay competitive

In my conversation with Ellis, we talked about how this industry is maturing and expanding rapidly, but also how small mom-and-pop operations can stay competitive when it comes to the “Walmarts” and “Budweisers” of the cannabis realm. Ellis recommended competing on quality but also automation, a place where APIs are playing an important role in automating the grow operations, sales, and marketing, but also meeting the growing need for regulatory compliance. To me, this doesn’t sound too different from every other industry impacted by technology and driven by APIs. Productivity, quality, and governance are what will ultimately make the difference between which companies are able to compete and stay ahead in any industry, not just a fast-moving and exploding industry like cannabis.

I set up a public workspace for this Breaking Changes episode with Ellis Smith of American Cannabis to help me continue researching this very interesting topic. As the cannabis industry grows and matures to meet the needs of the market, APIs are making a clear impact.

You can tune in and subscribe to the Breaking Changes podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Music, or watch it on YouTube for more details.

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