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Buying Weed Can Be A Drag. Maybe This “Shopify For Cannabis” Can Help.

Denver-based startup Baker built an e-commerce platform to ease some of the pain points specific to the legal pot industry.

Buying Weed Can Be A Drag. Maybe This “Shopify For Cannabis” Can Help.
[Photo: Flickr user Cannabis Culture]

Baker Technologies, the three-year-old marijuana-marketing startup, has a stated mission to bring order and uniformity to the legal-weed business. It’s one of a number of companies—including delivery services like Meadow and Eaze—that have raised capital over the last few years to try to cash in on the green rush of this fast-growing industry.

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Today, Baker is going wide with an e-commerce platform called Shop, which they’re pitching as a kind of “Shopify for cannabis.” Aimed specifically at dispensaries and tailored to the unique needs of the marijuana industry, the platform lets pot-selling establishments set up online storefronts, list what they have in stock, track their sales, and streamline their process for pickups and deliveries.

David Champion, Baker’s cofounder and chief product officer, says the idea for Shop originally began in 2014, the year pot became legal in Colorado. Back then, with the industry taking off, local dispensaries quickly filled up with curious tourists who would spend a lot of time poking around and asking questions, but not necessarily buying much of the emerald stuff. The backlog led to extra wait times that would thwart sales and frustrate regular customers.

“They were being held up in line,” recalls Champion, who chatted with Fast Company via phone from Baker’s Denver headquarters. “[Customers would] drive a half hour to the dispensary, wait in line for another half an hour, and get to the front to realize … the product they needed was not in stock.”

Long lines at dispensaries may not be a rampant problem, especially now that some of the initial curiosity around legal weed has worn off. But still, Champion says dispensaries can simplify the pot-buying process with consumer-facing websites that let customers shop for products, check inventory, order ahead, and even arrange for deliveries where permitted. Baker launched a prototype for Shop with a few dispensaries in Colorado and has been quietly inviting new ones to use it. The platform is now live in 12 states and in British Columbia, supporting both medical and recreational jurisdictions. The official Shop announcement is today.

[Screenshot: courtesy of Baker]

The Complexity Of Hawking Weed

Shop wasn’t easy to put in place. The biggest hurdle with creating a uniform e-commerce system for legal weed is the confusing patchwork of state and local regulations that govern the sale and distribution of cannabis—some of which seem to be changing every day. In California and Oregon, for instance, pot deliveries are permissible. Not so in Colorado. And in Connecticut, there are restrictions on how dispensaries may display the product.

For Baker, the challenge was creating a flexible e-commerce infrastructure that could accommodate all these disparate elements, including age gates, ID medical card checks, and weight limits. Baker even has a team of compliance experts on hand to help dispensaries make sure their storefronts are operating aboveboard.

“We had to do a lot of tailoring and customization of our platform so that the dispensary can go in and set their preferences—the language, the imagery, the branding—in accordance with their state rules,” Champion says.

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Baker was founded in 2014 and says it works with over 250 dispensaries. Last month, the company closed $1.6 million in funding, bringing its total capital raised to $3.5 million. But it has company. Last year, San Francisco-based Meadow raised $2.1 million to further its own cannabis-sales software, as TechCrunch reported. And, of course, the “blank for pot” pitch has been around for a while. (My personal favorite is the “Airbnb for pot” we wrote about in 2015.)

The pot industry, for all its attempts at maturity, still faces a lot of uncertainty, including recent tough talk from the Trump administration. In February, White House press secretary Sean Spicer indicated that we could see stepped-up enforcement of federal laws against recreational pot use. Even as states have legalized the drug, it still paradoxically remains a Schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

But there’s reason for Mary Jane fans to be optimistic about the future: Medical marijuana is now legal in 26 states, and recreational pot smoking is legal in eight. And despite Spicer’s rhetoric, some analysts predict weed could be legal in all 50 states by 2021. That gives pot-focused startups like Baker plenty of room to take root.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why Baker wanted to announce its new service now, remember we’re entering the high season of 4/20, aka stoner Christmas, and dispensaries around the country are preparing for the inevitable rush. “It’s our busiest day of the year,” Champion says.

Of course it is.

About the author

Christopher Zara joined Fast Company in August 2016 as a news editor focusing on tech, media, business, and innovation. Before that, he was deputy editor of media and culture at International Business Times and managing editor of Show Business.

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