Leaf Nation Logo

PotBots: AI in the Cannabis Industry

Can AI take the data while we take the dabs?

Photo by Adobe Stock

Artificial intelligence, or AI, could be the most impactful technology of this century. But it isn’t new … and as we sit in the ever-evolving churn of Cannabis legislation and legalization, it’s important to look at emerging technological advancements with a questioning eye and ask: 

Is AI good for the Cannabis movement?

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI has been the subject of techno-philosophers and computer nerds for decades, with popularized movies and books portraying AI as an ensuing, all-encompassing, evil entity that will destroy humanity as soon as it’s turned on. While Chat GPT might have influenced a few term papers, the world has not ended since AI was turned on – so let’s explore what it really is.

AI is a tool, first and foremost. It should not be anthropomorphized. It is not an entity, like a person. It does not have feelings, or even think in the way we use that word. AI is more of an enhanced Google – a massive collection of data that can be used as a tool to create, analyze, monitor or action objectives at the direction of humans. And while fear mongering in the media might warn of world-ending outcomes, AI is already here helping human enterprises and even operating the self-driving cars Tesla has pioneered.

The machine does not control us,” said Max Tegmark in his book ‘Life 3.0.’ “We control the machine. And it is our duty to use it wisely.”

As the most potentially powerful tool in human history, AI is to today’s society what Google would have been 50 or even 500 years ago. An all-knowing entity that could answer all questions from the complete database of human knowledge would have been considered a God. Today, in a world used to asking Siri questions that would have once taken hours of research or been impossible to even answer 50 years ago, we now have a mind-boggling level of accessibility and capability with regard to data and information of all kinds.

So, will it change the world? It already has. And should it change how we fight wars or fight fires (especially when combined with robotics), it will likely lead to less loss of human life. But when it comes to our everyday existence, it seems like our “real world” worry is about one thing: How will it affect our jobs?

AI Took My Job: The Cannabis Industry Analysis

Emerging technology has been stealing jobs since the automatic loom was invented – helping kick off the Industrial Revolution in 1814 and driving competition for skilled mill workers, rather than simple laborers. Much like today’s tech workers, those skilled workers were wooed with libraries and other perks as the lower-class laborers languished – assuming their role in the economy was over. 

Gallup has been polling Americans for decades about the fear of technology taking their jobs. And perhaps unsurprisingly, ever since pollsters started asking the question, a resounding majority has answered yes. The modern version of this fear is the “robot workforce” theory that posits we will all be replaced by humanoid robots that don’t get tired or hurt. For this writer – who moved furniture and built a few houses in college and during the early years of starting Leaf Magazines – the idea of robots doing dangerous or back-breaking work is a dream. But as a society and species, we should look to embrace technology that ends the struggle, aiming to evolve to a social structure that isn’t based upon the trading of time for work to simply survive. For more on this, check out Universal Basic Income and the four-day work week – keeping in mind the fact that robots are already helping us make cars, computers, and almost anything else with complex machinery processes.

“The countries with the highest robot density have among the lowest unemployment rates,” said Ulrich Spiesshofer, former CEO of leading robotics and technology company ABB Ltd. “Technology and humans combined in the right way will drive prosperity.”

But just how does AI intersect with P-O-T? As we look at the developed economy of the weed industry, there are very few jobs that AI can take – but a lot of ways it can make systems associated with productivity and security run more smoothly. As we know, AI is not a sentient being – it is an efficient tool with the power of infinite data. In the garden, this can manifest in the form of software and sensors to monitor the growing environment – from temperature and humidity levels, to more complex data like light levels, nutrient concentrations or deficiencies, and modeling based on previous data to say which plants to cull early in the process. From a software perspective, AI can provide immense amounts of data to growers and processors that will make cultivation easier and more precise. This will reduce waste and increase quality, while still requiring a human team to run the system. Sounds like a win!

On the retail side, AI is going to make purchasing pot easier – especially for the dispensaries as they procure products to sell. The weakest link in the entire Cannabis industry is uneducated “buyers” who manage retail inventory for stores without science or data, often using hype or intuition to decide what to buy and then offer to their customers. Uninformed buying leads to old pot on shelves and the hot strains having gaps in ordering. That’s not how Costco or Walmart decide what to sell, and the weed industry could stand to grow in this respect. AI can analyze sales data and sell-through rates to optimize retail selections, helping ensure that the customer preferences are clear and shelves remain appropriately stocked. 

But don’t forget: Once the weed is on the shelf, along with hundreds of other options, we humans will still want to hear from another human about which indica slaps, or the sativa that’s a surefire juicer for creativity. While AI is smart, it can’t smoke weed – ergo, we’ll always need budtenders. AI can take the data, while we take the dabs.

As we look further into how Cannabis is bought, sold and smoked, AI’s effortless capacity to help optimize delivery routes, analyze sales data, and even create packaging mockups and artwork, places a dynamic tool at our disposal. But none of that can be actioned without a human, and even the artwork requires a prompting of the AI, which takes skill.

“I think the future of global competition is, unambiguously, about creative talent,” said Vivienne Ming, Executive Chair and Co-Founder at Socos Labs. “Everyone will have access to amazing AI. Your vendor on that will not be a huge differentiator. Your creative talent though – that will be who you are. Instead of chasing that race to the bottom on labor costs, invest in turning your talent into a team of explorers who can solve amazing problems using AI as the tool that takes the busy work out. That is the company that wins in the end.”

From the perspective of this writer, who has seen the Cannabis industry emerge from the shadows of an illegal market to become a multibillion dollar legal industry, there isn’t a wave of jobs to be lost to AI in Cannabis – but there is a tsunami of opportunity with the potential to make the growing, selling and buying processes easier. Considering that most Americans’ first bag of pot came in a Ziplock baggie from a fast food parking lot, the co-evolution of technology and Cannabis has only made the world a better place to be high.

About Wes Abney

Wes Abney is the founder and CEO of the Leaf Nation brand family, which began in 2010 as Northwest Leaf magazine. Recognized as the first Cannabis publication in the region, Northwest Leaf defined and developed the medical and recreational Cannabis communities in Washington with free publications focused on quality content and truthful journalism. The model’s success has led to Oregon Leaf in 2014, Alaska Leaf in 2016, Maryland Leaf in 2019, California Leaf in Spring of 2020, and Northeast Leaf in Fall of 2020. Wes’s writing and publishing background began with his college newspaper, The Ebbtide, which included a love for multimedia and creating content on many platforms. The nickname “Bearded Lorax” came after years of publishing millions of free magazines, using his voice to speak for a plant and those that benefit from it. Wes is an activist not only for Cannabis but for alternative medicine treatments, ending the drug war and freeing prisoners who have been wrongfully incarcerated for non-violent crimes. His passion for reaching people with written and spoken words led to the concept of Leaf Life Podcast in partnership with Mike Ricker, which began development in 2018 and launched in January 2019. With the combined passions of Cannabis and a love for broadcasting, the creation of Leaf Life was a natural progression for Leaf Nation as it spread roots across the United States. With over 100 shows recorded, and printing over 100,000 monthly copies, Leaf Nation has become the world’s largest Cannabis media company, while still celebrating the humble roots and truthful journalism that the model was founded upon. Beyond leading a team of 40+ passionate Cannabis creatives, Wes is the father to two beautiful daughters and two furry cats. He lives in Seattle, drinks coffee, and enjoys Cannabis daily, and hopes to eventually transition from a successful Cannabis journalist to a classic coffee shop author as the Leaf continues to grow in the coming decades. In true Lorax fashion, he enjoys hikes in the forest, communing with nature, and reminding people that “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

This article was originally published in the October 2023 issue of All Magazines.

View our archive on issuu.

Are you 21 or older? This website requires you to be 21 years of age or older. Please verify your age to view the content, or click "Exit" to leave.