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Can AI Solve Dispensaries' Biggest Challenges?

The entrepreneurs behind touCanna are betting on it.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Cannabis dispensary professionals are all too familiar with constantly juggling their inventory, customer engagement programs, employee success efforts, and everything in between. On top of the day-to-day grind, dispensaries are under do-or-die pressure to maintain pristine records to stay compliant with local and state policies. If they fail to do so, dispensaries run the risk of being fined up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and potentially having to close up shop.

Pheonix Wolfe O'Brien

Two technology-focused entrepreneurs, Cree Robinson and Louis Masensi, are hoping to simplify this process with their new software company touCanna, which automates and connects all of a dispensary’s work in one place.

Origin story

The pair decided to launch into entrepreneurship after years working in tech, and learning that the corporate world wasn’t always welcoming of new ideas. Tired of hearing the words, “Your ideas are great, but that’s just not how we do things here,” they wanted more freedom to create and help make people’s lives easier. So they chose to use their tech skills to empower cannabis dispensaries.

"I was determined to create within spaces where women and people of color had been excluded from or did not have as much opportunity as other groups," says Robinson. "We're both long time believers in cannabis and have seen first hand the power of its healing capabilities, so getting involved was a no-brainer." With set goals and a vision in place by summer 2018, the pair chose to understand and solve dispensary pain points rather than the entire supply chain.

The problem

Dispensary owners and operators face many challenges, from staying on top of the changing laws and making sure they remain compliant, all the way to managing the smallest details of their employee workforce. After analyzing dispensary operations across the country, Robinson and Masensi noticed two things:

  1. There didn’t seem to be a solution that unified and simplified the work that dispensary owners needed to get done.

  2. Dispensary owners were still managing their work with non-digital solutions such as paper, filing cabinets, and sticky notes.

As a result, dispensary teams were often using more than seven different digital and paper systems. This forced staff to re-enter information across poorly connected systems. This left managers to rely on error-prone data, misplaced documents, and the list goes on.

Robinson didn’t see a reason why she and Masensi couldn’t give dispensary teams a one-stop shop for their most important needs. They believed that a centralized platform that could enable stronger communication, accountability, and information retrieval would help dispensaries meet compliance and performance goals.

After conducting 80 interviews with owners, managers, and budtenders across the country, Robinson and Masensi now believe that their Dispensary Operations Management Software (DOMS) will help dispensaries save both time and money. Launching in January 2021, the software should help prevent costly fines and strengthen operations.

Related: Best Cannabis Software for Seed-to-Sale Tracking

The solution

DOMS, like the one Masensi and Robinson have developed, offers a central hub with built-in capabilities to manage sales and inventory, HR, marketing, store maintenance, compliance and risk management, task management, and finance management. Everything is all in one place, so dispensary work and teams are completely connected. For example, compliance managers, marketing managers, and accountants can all use the same system. 

The end-goal of an AI-driven, DOMS  system is to combine all dispensary information under one platform in order to create a new level of visibility for dispensary leaders, making it easier than ever to pin down the truth about what’s happening in their stores. 

“Some dispensaries will miss out on the upcoming technology revolution unless they begin digitizing and consolidating their data now,” says Masensi as he speaks to the benefits to be gained through AI. 

Related: Three Reasons To Adopt AI Automation Technology In Your Grow Operation

Why dispensaries need DOMS

AI that allows computers to complete tasks and make suggestions based on what they’ve learned in the past, is something that continues to change the way we do things. We already use AI now when we use Apple's Siri and autocorrect. The benefits of AI for businesses, specifically cannabis businesses, remains largely untapped.

Imagine a manager creating the schedule for 4/20, one of the busiest sales days of the year for dispensaries. AI-powered, DOMS systems could suggest that the manager schedule Jane and Mary to work the registers during peak hours. Why? Because the software could have data to indicate that Jane and Mary had the highest number of sales and upsells when working together in the last three months.

This kind of insight will not be possible unless core systems in a dispensary are seamlessly talking to one another. Just like it would have been impossible to get on the internet in the early 2000s without a computer, it will be impossible for dispensaries to benefit from AI unless their data is seamlessly consolidated and tracked over months to years. 

There’s a lot that can be predicted and accomplished from using AI, but the key to making this happen is unified information. Currently, most dispensaries are not using a single system that consolidates all of their information, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reap all of the benefits of AI. As a result, Robinson and Masensi fear that dispensaries that are not prepared will be left behind.