Cover Story, News, Spotlight

Keep Cannabis Data Open and Free For All
Data and Analytics
By: David Hodes

Keep Cannabis Data Open and Free For All

More and more cannabis trade shows feature companies that provide cannabis data and analytics for the industry. Coming about as a result of the steady growth of the industry and the curiosity of technologists, analytics companies are interested in studying canna-businesses while simultaneously sorting out complex issues related to the science and business behind the plant.

This big swath of complexities creates a huge spread of opportunities and ideas to explore using the collected data. Not surprisingly, most of the analytical companies in this space choose to focus on the cultivator, the dispensary, the grower, the security operations, the retail sales operations, etc.

Leafly, for example, is one of the earliest and well-known players in the cannabis analytics business, providing data on the strains of cannabis, dispensaries and more. It’s considered the go-to resource guide for people dipping their toes in the cannabis business space.

While some analytic companies like Leafly position themselves as the one-shop data stop, many in the industry believe that no one should be the exclusive data gatekeeper. The desire for data to be made available to the public for free is not a belief exclusive to the cannabis space. The notion that open data is a public good is a tenet of many branches of thinking. The belief that cannabis data should be free, shared and open sourced to fire up the engine of technology and the imaginations of technologists to advance the industry is a relevant and vital topic.

Nevertheless, according to David Drake, CEO of Cannabis Reports, an information resource for the cannabis industry, getting and using that data is problematic, because too many people are claiming or trying to claim ownership without seeing the big picture of what the industry needs.

“We as technologists have to come together and figure out a way to let our systems talk to each other,” he said.

I think that open data and open standards is a much easier way forward than trying to have companies come up with their own standardization over and over and over again in every single state in a different way.”

– CEO of Cannabis Reports David Drake

He sees a very open future where it doesn’t matter if someone owns a wholesale company or a delivery company or a lab testing company or any related business down the chain. “We should have one way to talk about this particular Blue Dream strain, cultivated on this particular date by this particular person, and we can communicate on that all the way from beginning to end,” he said. “That is the future that I want to see. Better access to information and more safety around cannabis, and just a better experience for all of us.”

Drake sees this as a great time in the industry to truly bring everyone together in the data analytics space. So much data is being collected from so many sources. “But one thing that they are not doing is giving open access to it,” he said. “So while they are giving information to some of the big decision makers in a lot of these businesses, as far as the people that are trying to develop software and trying to create what is going to be the infrastructure and architecture for this global cannabis industry, nobody is stepping in to do that.” He believes “Developers are not getting those good tools. They are starting from scratch every single time, over and over again. People really want some place to get data from to build their software.”

He sees the advertising-free Cannabis Reports site as a better, safer place for resource collection and use, free and open to everyone.

Drake has called out the popular data analytics sites like WeedMaps and Leafly because he says those sites are not safe. When people search Google for information about cannabis, for example, they likely are directed to sites like Leafly. “But there are 28 different services that are tracking your movements when you are on the Leafly site,” he said. “All of your data is being sold to corporations. And that is not OK with me and not OK for the cannabis industry,” he said. “Sites like these are what people have decided is what technology should look like for the industry. And it’s really shitty, because you need to make sure your information is private because you are talking about your medical experiences.”

He said that there are currently 20,000 developers building off the open information available on his site. “There is a demand for this. They want good, structured info about cannabis and it is out there.”

cannabis data
More and more cannabis trade shows feature companies that provide cannabis data and analytics for the industry

Some of the reason for the push back by governments regarding cannabis legalization is related to a lack of data about cannabis. “You hear the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society agree that cannabis is medically effective,” he said. “But I think it’s less about proving that it’s medically effective and more about giving government and law enforcement the tools to feel comfortable about what is on the shelves and what is out there. I think that open data and open standards is a much easier way forward than trying to have companies come up with their own standardization over and over and over again in every single state in a different way.”

Drake said that, as the legalization continues across the country, the cannabis industry is in a critical stage to define what it is and where it is going. The Open Cannabis Project, where a group of scientists, members of academia and lawyers are building an archive of the genetic information about cannabis strains that is free to use, is a great step forward in using analytics and a good example of what Drake believes the industry needs. “We live in a software world,” he said. “And we have this revolution of ideas and this great medical stuff going on. But technologically speaking, we haven’t caught up yet.”

With Cannabis Reports, he says, he is just trying to enable a transition for different arms of the industry to speak with one another, instead of everyone coming up with their own codes or schemes.

As of now, institutions like the Berkeley Institute for Data Science have downloaded and parsed the Cannabis Reports data, along with a number of doctors who have accessed the medical studies on the site. “Cannabis belongs to the people and the information about it should also belong to the people,” Drake said. “So by creating a separate organization to house this data and hold this data helps to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the hands of corporate or advertising interests. We want this information to be out there for economists and bio informatics folks and all of these different folks so that we can all come together on what we are actually talking about. And that is a powerful and cool thing.”

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