Tech giant Microsoft announced Thursday it is partnering with a cannabis industry-focused software company called Kind Financial. The company provides “seed to sale” services for cannabis growers, allowing them to track inventory, navigate laws and handle transactions all through Kind’s software systems. The partnership marks the first major tech company to attach its name to the burgeoning industry of legal marijuana.
This hesitancy comes from the still murky legal status of marijuana in most of the country. Marijuana is still illegal nationwide, and the risk of crackdowns where federal and state laws contradict have discouraged many banks from working with marijuana businesses. There are also risks in taking a weed business across state lines where it could have a different legal standing. And there’s always the danger that a change in government leadership, say with a changing presidential administration, could result in a backtracking of relaxed marijuana laws.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), sees marijuana software and Microsoft as a natural pairing. He said “If you are trying to go big macro strategy at a company like Microsoft, and you want a super diverse portfolio, and you’re located largely in a place where you can visibly see the marijuana commerce happening, and of course maybe your employees and others are engaged in that commerce, why wouldn’t the company invest in it?”.
He adds that he believes that Microsoft’s association with legal marijuana will ultimately be helpful in the legalization effort. (Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is in a state that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.) The legitimacy it lends will make it easier for marijuana producers to do business, citing growers who see their ad dollars refused by corporations that don’t want to be associated with the substance. He said. “Having a brand name like Microsoft will definitely catch people’s attentions,”
He also thinks the partnership could affect legislation. “Microsoft has a leviathan [lobbying] effort up here in Washington [D.C.],” he said. “One of the things that has been really interesting to see is how the focus is becoming not so much about legalization per say, that’s almost become a bugaboo word up on the Hill, but just focusing in on these commerce reforms, for example to allow banks to handle this trade … they lobby hard for that stuff on the Hill right now and to have a Microsoft weigh in saying, we want to be part of that commerce, can only buoy those efforts.”