Two of L.A.’s fastest-growing sectors, tech and cannabis, have collided to get the ball rolling on innovations that likely will have a big impact well beyond the world’s largest cannabis market in Southern California.
While the combination of federal law and the previously freewheeling nature of the L.A. cannabis scene kept many entrepreneurs out of the cannabis space, being in the heart of the now-regulated California and global cannabis industry is proving too good to pass up. Previously cannabis technology was a phrase synonymous with San Francisco and Denver, but the tech minds of L.A. are ready to stake their claim a bit closer to home.
Recently CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, gauged the state of the L.A. tech workforce along with 50 others across the United States. Though L.A. is in the middle of the pack overall, it ranked a lot closer to the top when it came to growth. L.A. was home to the largest rise in tech jobs in the country last year. The only place on the continent that did better was Canada’s capital, Ottawa. And that was despite the comparative expense of running a tech company in L.A. CBRE’s analysis found L.A. to be the seventh most expensive market to run a 500-person tech company needing 75,000 square feet of office space.
The folks at the California Cannabis Industry Association are watching the L.A. tech wave make its way into the business.
“My feeling on Los Angeles is that it really could be a hub for innovation,” CCIA communications and outreach director Josh Drayton tells L.A. Weekly. He also noted the medical innovation happening at various SoCal universities as proof that local catalysts exist for that kind of big tech.
The biggest challenge for the continued growth in the sector? Drayton points to ongoing licensing issues. But those same challenges present an opportunity to L.A. technologists to create new solutions.
According to Drayton, the membership expansion in Southern California for the industry’s oldest statewide trade group is a clear indicator that the pot technology scene is less attached to its original incubator the Bay Area. But many of the most innovative minds will face unique regulatory challenges wherever they end up in California, especially if they need to put hands on the plant in-house for R&D purposes.
“I think being a tech company is very challenging both inside and outside the cannabis industry,” Drayton says. “Tech platforms have become a part of our everyday life, for good and for bad. I think across the board we’re trying to figure out what role they could play, should play, and what responsibilities they have.”
Drayton referenced Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of Congress. Never mind the Russians, imagine an even scarier situation where user data at a dispensary was breached in a trackable way against something like a driver’s license number.
As for the still unknown regulatory challenges pot tech will face in L.A.?
“I know they’re taking it slow,” Drayton says. “But I do think there is a desire for L.A. to do this right. They have a great leader in Cat Packer [executive director of L.A.’s Department of Cannabis Regulation], who is very thoughtful in going through all the nuances. So I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of cannabis in Los Angeles.”
Paragon founder Sam Zartoshty has found himself at the crest of the L.A. pot tech wave over the last few years while working to develop a staffing solution for the industry and leading the popular “Blunt Talk” series, which brings together some of SoCal’s brightest weed industry minds for Ted Talk–style presentations. Zartoshty did a lap through Berkeley as part of Canopy accelerator’s 2016 Berkeley class, which enlightened him on the experiences of developing a platform in both markets.