California’s First Tech Hackathon Focused Entirely on Cannabis
Changing the ways in which society views and uses cannabis
Michael Zaytsev the founder of High NY, New York’s largest Cannabis education community, is committed to changing the ways in which society engages with Cannabis. Since 2014, he’s been producing events designed to spark meaningful conversations about the plant. When I asked Michael what motivates him, his playful demeanor instantly shifts to a very serious tone: “This is a human rights issue. Ending Cannabis prohibition is the first step in solving substantial systemic challenges of public health, criminal justice, and sustainability.” The former Googler turned life coach has been focused on empowering others to get involved in Cannabis activism and industry. That prompted him to write “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Cannabis” a book meant to help professionals transitioning into the budding industry as well as passionate Cannabis enthusiasts who don’t have a background in entrepreneurship.
As the creative force behind many unique events, like the New York City Cannabis Film Festival, Zaytsev believes creating spaces for people to learn more about Cannabis issues is a gateway into greater civic participation. With that in mind, he reached out to AngelHack, a female-owned, female-majority company which is the world’s largest and most diverse developer ecosystem to collaborate on a Cannabis Hackathon in San Francisco. “AngelHack was super excited about the idea. They’re a super progressive, well respected organization in the tech community and they immediately saw the value in this joint venture. I’m grateful for their support and partnership on this,” said Zaytsev.
What’s a Cannabis Hackathon?
A hackathon is typically a multi-day event where technologists, entrepreneurs, and designers collaborate to rapidly prototype new projects. They’re common in the tech world and many enterprises regularly hold them to facilitate experimentation and innovation. Though many influential Silicon Valley engineers and executives are regular Cannabis consumers, very few are engaged in Cannabis activism. The goal of the “High Tech Hackathon” is to foster collaboration and a cross pollination of ideas between the tech community and Cannabis industry. “Silicon Valley is the global tech innovation hub and California is the epicenter of Cannabis culture, so it makes perfect sense to bring this event to the bay area,” explained Zaytsev. Especially as California became the sixth state to allow the sale of legal marijuana for adult use at the start of 2018. Many view this as an important tipping point for the Marijuana movement. Understandably so, as California represents a huge market, projected to exceed $7 billion dollars of annual sales within the next few years.
“This event is an invitation for the tech community to become more vocal and active in solving problems caused by Cannabis prohibition,” says Zaytsev. Although this Hackathon will be the first of its kind in California, it certainly will not be the last as Michael is already planning for more such events in multiple United States tech hubs and as well as a few cities abroad.
The Cannabis & Tech Contradiction
Many of Silicon Valley’s goliath companies — Google, Facebook, Apple, etc — don’t drug test their employees for marijuana. They know that a significant amount of engineers and software developers enjoy consuming Cannabis. And so they turn a blind eye to their consumption because they require the programmers’ mental horsepower to fuel technical excellence. According to Zaytsev, the emerging Cannabis industry is a perfect fit for the ethos of the high technology community. “Not only is the Cannabis industry in a start-up phase, where there’s a monstrous demand for innovation and entrepreneurship, but it also represents an opportunity to solve massive societal problems that impact millions of people. Tech companies always claim they want to save the world and help people, well Cannabis is a perfect arena for making that happen.”
Making a Difference
So what’s keeping Silicon Valley’s brightest minds from being activists? According to Zaytsev, it’s a combination of fear, lack of education, and privilege. “When I worked at Google, I didn’t know anything about Cannabis except how to consume it. As a white male yuppie, I lived in a cloud of blissful, privileged ignorance. I only became an activist after I learned about the plant’s history. Prohibition has ruined millions of lives and wasted over a trillion dollars. Meanwhile the plant has the ability to detoxify soil, sequester carbon from the air, and provide healing for cancer patients and kids with epilepsy. This was too much for me to ignore, I wanted to get involved and make a difference in the world.”
And make a difference, he has. To date, Michael Zaytsev has educated thousands of people about marijuana and as evidenced by the upcoming High Tech Hackathon, he is not showing any signs of slowing down. He credits the skills and mentorship he received working in Silicon Valley to be a huge component of his effectiveness as a Cannabis leader. “This plant has proven to me time and time again that one person can make a huge difference. If I can provide that spark for some of the Hackathon participants, the sky’s the limit for how much social good can be unlocked.”