Marijuana executives use AI to make product decisions

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(This story is part of the cover package in the May-June issue of MJBizMagazine.)

C-suite executives might be considered a company’s most powerful group.

In reality, they are at the mercy of accountants, advisers, data analysts and other staff who provide them with the information they need to make decisions.

Artificial intelligence can change that bottleneck by giving executives the data they need when they need it.

“Data doesn’t necessarily need to be handled by IT anymore,” explained John Hanna, vice president of technology at C3 Industries, a vertically integrated cannabis company in Michigan.

“Executives can now type regular questions into a dialog box, and it’ll use key terms to really understand what the question is and retrieve and build the query for your data.

“I think we’re at a point where any executive – or any person, frankly, in the company – can use AI to ask questions and retrieve information without necessarily having a technical background.”

Executive uses for AI

Like their peers in other industries, more cannabis executives are learning to leverage AI to help lead their companies.

Tom Regan, CEO of Root & Bloom, a cannabis extraction and product manufacturing company in Salisbury, Massachusetts, said he sees three main areas where AI can be used to gather and analyze “market intelligence:”

  • Product and segment sales.
  • Consumer behavior.
  • Product design and innovation.

Regan said Root & Bloom only recently started using “external” AI tools “to pick through” market data and “to reach conclusions on the way we price products.”

He said questions Root & Bloom executives ask AI include:

  • What’s the next product in our pipeline that we should design?
  • Who is the prototypical consumer?
  • Are we designing the right products at the right price for the greatest swath of customers?

Asking the right questions

C3 is building an AI-enabled data warehouse, Hanna said.

The data warehouse will have multiple information sources, such as point of sale, cultivation and manufacturing; AI will analyze those data sets and “anticipate” questions, he added.

“If you want it to know sales of all locations within your enterprise, then, if you ask that question, it will understand or reason that you will probably ask for the same data by market, by category of product, by various different ways you can dice up the data.”

Shopping for AI

Cannabis executives say costs for artificial intelligence tools can be reasonable.

Lo Friesen, CEO and chief extraction officer at Heylo, a cannabis extraction and products company in Seattle, suggests people who are new to using AI start by experimenting with free tools.

“Start small. It’s a skill to be able to use these (AI) tools,” Friesen said, adding that she advises others to pay only for tools that exactly meet their needs.

“I always recommend starting with the free stuff, so you can build your skills and then figure out which strengths you’re looking for. Then, you can find the right paid tool for it,” Friesen said.

The cost of AI programs can be anywhere from $20 per month to hundreds of dollars per month, Friesen said.

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AI in existing software

When determining which AI tools to buy for your businesses, John Hanna, vice president of technology at Michigan-based C3 Industries, a vertically integrated cannabis company, recommends that executives start by assessing their existing tech stack and “taking inventory of all the software that you are currently using.”

“Have internal resources take a deep dive into each one of those software pieces that you own, and research the existing capabilities. You’ll be surprised how much AI-type technology exists in this tech stack you already have,” Hanna said.

He added that triangulating multiple data points creates stronger AI capability.

Hanna estimated that a fee of $20 per user per month for a basic AI tool “is reasonable.”

Root & Bloom, a cultivation and extraction and cannabis products business based in Salisbury, Massachusetts, spends a “couple thousand” dollars per month across the company for its AI tools, Regan said.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at