23 August 2022 |

What innovation means for cannabis

By Kaitlin Domangue

What does innovation really mean in cannabis?

Shayda Torabi is the CEO of RESTART CBD, one of Austin’s leading cannabis retailers and the host of To Be Blunt – one of the cannabis industry’s favorite business podcasts!

TLDR: Innovation in cannabis means different things to everyone – but is innovation always needed?

Innovation is almost synonymous with the cannabis industry. 

We’ve all heard an operator talk about the innovative work they are doing. In such a new space, innovation comes with the territory.

Which is why it was probably surprising when I recently sent a newsletter with the subject line: stop innovating. Talking directly to cannabis operators. 

“There’s enough innovation as a result of being a new, in-demand, AND federally illegal industry,” I wrote. “Enough challenges come from that. Replicate traditional business practices where you can to save time, energy, and oftentimes money.”

Many cannabis owners/operators believe they *have* to be innovating at all times. This is usually for a few reasons: 

1. They think everyone else is innovating & they’ll fall behind 

2. They think the cannabis industry demands innovation

And in some ways – the industry does demand it. Like I wrote, being a new, in-demand AND federally illegal industry breeds plenty of innovation. But cannabis operators are often innovating when they don’t have to be. 

Don’t get me wrong. Innovation is not bad. 

But there’s a lot of pressure to be constantly innovating. The fast-moving, instant culture we live in demands innovation on its own – but working in the cannabis industry multiplies that tenfold.

So what do cannabis owners and operators say when they’re asked about their future plans?

Innovation. It has to involve innovation, right? We have to create something new. A new way of doing things. A new product. A new this, a new that. Isn’t that what everyone else is doing in cannabis? We’re at the forefront of an industry, after all. 

There is viability in the status quo for cannabis businesses. 

I’d even venture to say that there can be *more* viability in the status quo than in the world of constant innovation.

Cannabis business owners don’t have to flip a product category, retail model, cultivation technique, or compliance processes on its head to achieve success in this industry. 

Cannabis business owners have harder problems to tackle – like how they are going to make a profit this quarter while the government doubles their tax rate under 280E.

And making a profit doesn’t always lie in innovation. Innovation should be the least of most cannabis businesses’ worries as we fight to even exist in the eyes of the U.S. federal government. 

With all of that being said, innovation brings new and better ideas, products, and ways of doing things. There are countless opportunities for innovation in the cannabis space, but it has to be executed correctly. 

I’d love to see more innovative technology in the works – especially where compliance and consumers are concerned. Helping consumers find a product that works for them using AI would be incredible, but we’re a ways off.

The other problem with innovation is that we lack a lot of data we need to even *make* innovative decisions, which should hopefully change after federal legalization. 

Innovation in cultivation  

Mike Bruno is the Founder and Principal Consultant at Golden Ocean Solutions, a cannabis cultivation strategy firm.

TLDR: Cultivation operations don’t always need innovation. They just need stability. 

I just had to include this in today’s newsletter. Mike perfectly answered Shayda’s question about what he thinks innovation looks like in cannabis. It’s such a hot topic in our space & constantly being discussed. 

He says lean, efficient cultivation operations with a focus on plant health will be where a lot of the continued evolution of the cannabis industry comes from. It makes total sense. 

But – lean, efficient operations with a focus on plant health need to exist in all agricultural spaces. Not just cannabis. All farms need to run lean – especially in the United States where our farms have been in a crisis with razor thin margins for several years. 

If you read my Stop Innovating newsletter, you know that one of my subscribers first reached out to me to discuss this. It’s something I’ve been mulling over for some time, but he succinctly put it into words – basically the idea that cannabis operators are innovating too much.

Interestingly enough, he cited a situation with a former boss who felt he needed to come up with a new way to calculate the ROI of a harvest. As my subscriber said, though, farms have been calculating this forever. Cannabis operators don’t need a new way of doing that – minus maybe a few nuances. 

I think efficient, lean operations with healthy plants rely less on innovation and more on stabilization. Once the cannabis industry is stabilized (federal legislation + other barriers removed), then better operation can fall into place. 

Regardless of our restrictions, which are aplenty, it takes time for new industries and products like ours to iron out the kinks. Remember when Steve Jobs faked one of the very first iPhone demos in a room full of people? The kinks have been ironed out with Apple.

PS – I do not recommend lying to a group of people like Steve Jobs did for your businesses’ gain. Elizabeth Holmes tried to do it (and even copied Steve’s black turtleneck) and look where she’s at. Awaiting sentencing for decades in prison and probably nursing a sore throat from forcing a raspy voice of authority for years.

Anyways… 

Cannabis operations need to stay focused and remember that innovation means nothing without a profitable business. Narrow in on your profits, your strategy for long-term success, and the customers you serve. 

From there, your innovative dreams can thrive.