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How Technology Will Keep Cannabis Afloat During The Pandemic

Cannabis producers around the world are finding digital solutions, embracing automation in their operations to streamline workflows.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In 2019, the U.S. saw a steady surge in legal cannabis sales, reaching $12.4 billion—a 37 percent increase year-over-year from 2018, where sales amounted to roughly $9.1 billion.

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But this healthy trend was quickly curbed with the onset of the global pandemic this year, and the strict shelter-at-home directives that followed soon after. With little time to adjust, cannabis producers and retailers were left to scramble as their operations came to a near halt.

RELATED: If Your Cannabis Brand Didn't Matter Before COVID-19, It Sure Does Now

In an era where technology has impacted almost every aspect of human life, cannabis producers around the world have started to come around to the idea of digital solutions, embracing automation in their operations to streamline workflows and provide greater value to the end consumer. Especially now, as the global health crisis accelerates the digitization of industries and regions, leading figures and entities within the cannabis industry are being prompted to reconsider technology's role in cannabis.

Here are three ways that technology has, and will continue to, benefit the cannabis industry.

1. Ensuring product safety and security

Throughout the history of cannabis, there have been reports of consumers coming into possession of products that, quite frankly, never should have made it to market. Cannabis that is tainted —rotten, expired, or contaminated —affects the consumer's immediate experience, but will also tarnish the reputation of the producer and brand in the long run. In the face of a pandemic, cannabis consumers are facing a new threat of contamination; the risk of product being handled by someone who's sick. Add to this threat the uncertainty around just how long the coronavirus can survive on cannabis plants.

Engineering solutions exist today to help cannabis producers combat these issues. Technology like Keirton's Twister Trimmer, which strips large volumes of cannabis flower of its low-quality leaves, removing most that could contain powdery mildew or other unwanted contaminants. While technology is not yet advanced enough to completely eliminate the risk of contamination, it has already significantly reduced the incidence of it. At Keirton, we're now working on harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and integrating it into our engineering solutions, so that it more accurately detects unwanted contaminants before it enters the supply chain. In the end, the outcome is a product that is both enjoyable to consume and significantly safer for the end consumer and limits the potential for cross-contamination.

2. Bolstering production volume, efficiency, and output

Whereas it used to take 100 pairs of hands to process 100 pounds of cannabis flower, technology can facilitate the same amount of work with only two pairs of hands. In accordance with the World Health Organization and the CDC, operators have had to dramatically limit the number of employees permitted on-site. Technology may be their only means of maintaining production output.

It can also arm producers with the ability to generate uniform, consumer-ready products that meet the required standards and regulations of our complex industry today. What's more, is that cannabis producers have already adopted technology into their operations. This industry has been able to foster growth, empowering employees by graduating them into more productive and higher-value layers in the production chain.

RELATED: Crowdfunding Is Revolutionizing The Cannabis Industry. Here's Why.

Historically, technology has had a bad reputation in the cannabis industry because of the perceived threat of automation and its impact on job security. But, in the face of an economy that's changing fast, technology may be our best shot of finding some stability in the chaos without threatening the bottom line.

3. Enhancing product quality and consistency

As humans, we have an inherent tendency to gravitate towards experiences that are familiar to us. For cannabis consumers, they're often looking for products that, time and time again, will offer a consistent experience. After all, how could they be loyal to a brand whose product differs, in taste or experience, depending on the day or production batch? It's just too unpredictable.

Having credible, technology-driven operations in place can help close the gap on this issue, and really strengthen producers' consistency of product and quality. With shelf-space in limited supply, operators and brands need a consistent product—whether that's in visual quality, aroma, or flavor—or risk losing out to its competitors. Even beyond consumption purposes, establishing a strong reputation founded on consistency can elevate a brand and its standing among consumers.

RELATED: Marijuana Banking Legislation Included In The New COVID-19 Relief Bill

Technology and automation are critical to driving the cannabis industry's growth, and there are proven indicators of its ability to foster and facilitate that change. To date, roughly 80 percent of the industry's leading legal cannabis producers in over 30 countries are outfitted with custom engineering solutions provided by Keirton. Those producers are reaping the efficiency and product consistency benefits of integrating technology into their operations.

With the added power and potential of technology, cannabis producers are better positioned to address the market's greatest pain points: safety and security to production volume and output, to product quality and consistency. What's needed now in a time of physical distancing and remote work, is more education on how exactly these tools can continue to foster innovation in this emerging industry.