Data Science in the Cannabis Industry

Christopher Riggio
4 min readApr 29, 2019

The stigma against marijuana has been prevalent in mainstream society for the last century and is finally beginning to dissipate as countries all over the world begin to relax laws. Here in the US , there has been a strong shift in public opinion over the last several years and federal legalization is on the horizon. Cannabis has quickly become one of the hottest emerging markets in recent memory. At the moment, this industry can roughly be divided into two segments. Those who produce and sell, and those involved in marijuana technology.

Data Collection is the Law

Data collection in the cannabis industry is not only vital to making business decisions, its often mandated in states where marijuana is medically or recreationally legal. It’s a similar approach to the level of scrutiny and government oversight that is placed on pharmaceutical companies, the most common way this is accomplished is through the use of seed-to-sale software.

Companies like BioTrackTHC, considered to be one of the industries leading seed-to-sale software providers, offers solutions for full-vertical licensed businesses as well as government agencies. According to their website there are 7 stages of compliance: cultivation, which includes cloning and growing, harvesting flower for sale or to make in other products, testing for pesticides or other contaminates, and transportation, which includes a detailed manifest to be filled out prior to the product being taken to a dispensary or retail facility. Point-of-sale which tracks the sale to the customer or patient and completes the seed-to-sale chain of custody. In addition the traceability system monitors patients by generating a unique ID number for each individual (more necessary for medical use than recreational). And the use of a real-time data portal for government agencies. As you can imagine, massive amounts of data are being recorded here at every stage.

Each plant or clone is assigned a globally unique 16 digit identifier code at the cultivation stage, and again at the harvest stage when material is batched. This is to ensure that product is not sold on the black market, as well as to allow prepackaged items such as oil concentrates and edibles to be traced back to the specific plant they were produced from. This flowchart illustrates steps taken in this process.

Infographic Credit — BioTrackTHC

Other Uses of Big Data in the Cannabis industry

We may only be a few years into legalization in a hand full of states but many companies are already using data science techniques to shape the cannabis industry. Startups are using data science to do everything from create products that help boost customer confidence, to stream lining and simplifying supply chains.

Companies like PotBotics use artificial intelligence to help find the best marijuana strains for your needs based on your symptoms/conditions, as well as highlighting nearby locations for purchasing these specific cannabis products. And its much more than just “click this symptom and here is your strain.” PotBotics cloud based data is correlated with peer-reviewed studies on cannabis from all over the world and is even HIPAA compliant.

Grownetics, another marijuana tech company based out of Boulder, Colorado offers next generation cultivation solutions including microclimate monitoring, full facility automation and production management mainly through the use of artificial intelligence. Through the use of their software they are able to collect and analyze massive amounts of cultivation data. They’re looking at things such as temperature, humidity and CO2 levels as well as nutrient recipes to better understand how individual cannabis strains grow in different environments. By understanding how specific strains grow best they’re able to tailor they’re facility to increase yields, increase potencies as well as the overall quality of their products while simultaneously decreasing the amount of energy, labor and other resources that are being used.

Going Forward…

We’re moving into uncharted territory as we approach the end of federal prohibition. And although there are still many unknowns about exactly how legalization will play out anyone interested in data science should be excited as the amount of data available is about to increase exponentially. It will be the job of data scientists to help industry leaders and law makers make decisions going forward in a business that will continue to evolve but that is inevitably here to stay.