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Marguerite Arnold
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Paradox Or Paragon? A Non-Techie Look At Blockchain and Cannabis: Part III

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

Disclaimer: Marguerite Arnold has just raised the first funds for her blockchain-based company, MedPayRx in Germany (and via traditional investment funding, not an ICO). She will also be speaking about the impact of blockchain on the cannabis industry in Berlin in April at the International Cannabis Business Conference.


Part I of this series was an overview discussion of blockchain, cryptocurrencies and cannabis and Part II dove into some of the pitfalls of ICOs in the cannabis space. This is the third and final piece of this series.

Beyond raising money or tying a tradable altcoin to cannaproduct, there are many places where blockchain technology can (and will) be used to great effect in the cannabis industry.

In fact, ICOs and cryptocurrency are only part of the blockchain discussion for the cannabis industry. In general, the technology will disrupt the vertical just like it is upending other businesses right now. However, for the moment at least, it will prove most useful in the most complicated and challenging technical and regulatory areas – supply chain product tracking being the lowest hanging fruit (which is still fairly high off the ground for a number of reasons). If evaluating blockchain tech is too onerous (which it usually is for the average investor or even senior cannabis exec), there are other options. Look for innovative mobile DApps (distributed apps that use blockchain for a specific purpose) and smart business cases.

The fascinating reality is that where there are service models that can be adapted to regulatory guidelines, blockchain promises, in fact, to remove the red tape and paperwork holding the industry back internationally. The impact on research and testing will also be huge.The rules are certainly changing with regards to public companies and cannabis.

The technology, or even the regulations, in other words, is not necessarily all to blame for the many issues budding blockchain entrepreneurs currently face. This space-age techie stuff, no matter how mind-blowing, is still “just” a tool. As the late Peter Drucker famously said, the raison d’etre of every successful business is one that solves a critical need for their customer. Find one for the industry that happens to use the technology, and you might just retire early. But there is a lot of road between that reality and now. And there probably will not be an ICO on that path. Not in most jurisdictions, and certainly not without complications in every one of them.

With an internationally stock-listed Canadian cannabis business now developing, the rules are certainly changing with regards to public companies and cannabis. For all the press that Cronos recently received for getting listed on the NASDAQ, AbCann got (relatively quietly) listed in Frankfurt last summer. Canopy and Aurora have also just become two of the hottest stocks in Sweden.

That said, these are public companies with regular stock issuances. What that means for ICO issuances related to the cannabis industry in Canada specifically is anyone’s guess at the moment. In Germany presently, this is mine-strewn territory. But even here, that will be driven as much if not more by banking law than canna-reform, just like everywhere else.

Not to mention this of course: Given the choice of investing in a public cannabis company already in business with its stock conveniently listed and purchasable via a regular exchange, what would most people choose? It’s just a whole lot easier than taking a flier on a cannabis-themed ICO offering for a concept that may be a great idea, but will never materialize. Or find a bank. Even in Europe or Canada.

The End Game Is Rosy Even If The Path Is Unclear

Despite all the caveats, the impact on the cannabis industry of this technology will be large – far beyond finance in other words – and in ways that are not necessarily all understood even now. The potential impacts on research, compliance and even further reform, however, are already clear. And for the most part, potentially very positive.

For that reason, there is no such thing as a blanket “yes” or “no” at any part of this discussion. Regulatory environments regarding both cannabis and blockchain are changing everywhere. Go slow and with caution is the watchword of the day. Look for interesting beta projects and track them.This is a rapidly changing territory in every direction.

Mentioning cannabis and blockchain if not cryptocurrency in the same breath is also legit, now. As little as 2 years ago, the idea or any combination of the two terms in fact, for whatever reason, was widely dismissed as just another iteration of Silk Road.

When combining this technology and cannabis, in other words, expect either amazing results or fantastic explosions that create a lot of heat and noise but go nowhere. There is more room, in other words, for a cannabis.io to become the industry’s NextGen Pets.com than Google or Facebook. That said, there are experiments going on now, in several countries where the banking and insurance questions are being addressed early (Germany, Canada, Australia and Israel all being such locales) where such issues have begun to be addressed up front.

In summary? Stay tuned and watch this space. This is a rapidly changing territory in every direction.

Marguerite Arnold
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Paradox or Paragon? A Non-Techie Look at Blockchain, Cryptocurrency & Cannabis: Part II

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

Disclaimer: Marguerite Arnold has just raised the first funds for her blockchain-based company, MedPayRx in Germany (and via traditional investment funding, not an ICO). She will also be speaking about the impact of blockchain on the cannabis industry in Berlin in April at the International Cannabis Business Conference.


To read the first part of this series, click here. The Paragon class action lawsuit is likely to shake up two industries – the cannabis world, which has been following this situation at least in the industry press since the company began to raise money – and the ICO space in general. Why? Just the combination of the two topics is a guaranteed conversation starter. In addition, given the focus on whether tokens are securities or not (or whether so-called “utility tokens” are as well, depending on how they are used and sold) far beyond cannabis, this case may well begin to set precedent on the entire subject. Even more worrying for Paragon in particular right now, beyond the federal government, coordinated efforts are underway by both law firms and consumer groups to recruit aggrieved investors as suit plaintiffs. Beyond the United States and far from the Paragon case specifically, banks in Europe have begun to set guidelines on cryptocurrency and ICOs too. It is not routinely hostile everywhere (see Switzerland if not many Asian countries). But the map is now being defined.

The dilemma that Paragon is now facing is also something that has been coming for some time both for the company and others like them – and from both the cannabis investment and crypto coin directions. Digitally astute cannapreneurs take note: Do you really want your dream business used to define precedent as a defendant in a class action? Or targeted by the new SEC cyber unit whose job is to regulate ICOs (and probably “crowd sales” too?). That regulatory glare is coming everywhere. And soon. Globally.In the world of cannabis, in particular, it is also very important to be careful.

If issuing tokens, particularly if you sell them to raise money – no matter what that money will be used for – realize what you are doing. Even if you state to the world that these are not “investment” vehicles” but “utility” tokens. If you sell them, they are by definition, even if not federally litigated and defined yet in the United States, a contract for future worth, services or other benefit. An IOU in other words. As such they are also derivative securities, which is why the regulatory agencies, barely 10 years out of the last global financial meltdown, are now starting to see parallels. So much so, in fact, that SEC Chair Jay Clayton warned in January that any attorneys who are involved in ICOs might be in breach of professional obligations. Other jurisdictions are following suit.

In the world of cannabis, in particular, it is also very important to be careful. Selling (soon to be federally if not internationally regulated) tokens or securities in general for that matter for certain services or products that can be illegal in some jurisdictions is also a space that cannapreneurs are going to find challenging. See the banking problems of the entire U.S. cannabis industry. Same issue.

This is also going to get even more complicated very soon. Particularly in a world of shifting regs and when it comes to “brand creation.” Right now, for example, a crowdfund or ICO (the terms can be used interchangeably, token issue or not) for a “global cannabis lifestyle brand” promoted and sold online is highly problematic just about everywhere. Why? You cannot transport cannabis across state lines in the U.S. Americans and Israelis also still cannot export anywhere. You also cannot sell what is considered “medical” marijuana to a European regulator if it is not GMP certified. It is, according to local definition, most certainly not “medical”. You may also not distribute cannabis online in countries like Germany. And of course, cannabis itself is still federally illegal in many places, including the United States. Issuing a token or security with the intent of engaging in such practices is ill advised at this juncture. No matter what it is labelled.

Those are also situations where investors could legitimately also sue the ICO or crowd sale holder for breach of securities laws or outright fraud.

Beyond the world of banking law, users face other quagmires, depending on your situation and how you use and issue tokens. Or you certainly will in the emerging future. If you use tokens in situations where members “vote” you may also run into other problems. Like civil liberties issues. Poll taxes (where you force people to pay before access to voting or weigh the impact of their votes on financial contributions) is illegal in many jurisdictions and even more specifically certain use cases that may not always be initially obvious. How that plays out in blockchained ecosystems is a discussion of the future, but it is coming. Along with other labour and regulatory issues surrounding the use of “smart contracts.” Which are also known as “utility tokens.” See, it gets confusing. And fast.

In the cannabis space, liabilities sprout more quickly than even the fastest growing strain.As a result, the first major issue that any cannabis business considering a token generation event (or TGE) will face, no matter whether it is state or federally legit in said jurisdiction, has nothing to do with cannabis but rather rather cryptocurrencies and ICOs – and for right now federal if not international financial law – but look for that to also change as the space develops.

For the present, in most places, token issues where monetary value is assigned or implied are considered securities or even defined outright as currency. Or they will be soon. This means that if you are issuing a new coin for any purpose that you intend to sell for any purpose, including an ICO, especially one that will supposedly be used to pay for goods or services, or even to “assetize” the token to give it a market value (the value of the asset it is assigned), you are now in the federal end of the swimming pool. And federal if not international law is not for novices or sissies much less non-lawyers when it comes to crypto coin. There are great white sharks everywhere in this often-strange digital ocean. That is even before you get to cannabis.

In the cannabis space, liabilities sprout more quickly than even the fastest growing strain.

This is also easy to illustrate – even beyond the concept of an ICO. Say you are a cannabis producer in Colorado – where much of the legal cannabis industry we know today was born. You are in business, have a license and even own your grow space and the acres of real estate that it sits on. But you also want to access additional capital (including that of the international kind) and are, as an aside, overwhelmed by the demands of your cash business. You meet an energetic young blockchain geek who says she can sign you up to her service that will create your white paper, website and even hook you up to one of the several “insta-mint” crypto coin services now available for several thousand dollars (don’t forget lawyer’s fees), plus hiring a good PR firm to manage the ICO process.

Groovy.

You issue your own coins and literally mint them for the sole purpose of assigning each coin to every dried gram of your product that you produce to test the market before potentially holding an ICO. You then “sell” this bud (at wholesale prices) to a dispensary with a wallet that will accept your coin via a smart contract that only releases the funds when the right amount and quality of product is delivered to the dispensary. As a clever marketing technique, you also agree with the recreational dispensary you are working with (who happens to be in Aspen) that you both will also now offer jointly issued coins, at a higher retail price, to any tourist with a medical card or any age-appropriate recreational user who has the ID to prove it, to “pre-buy” their cannabis on the way to après ski and have it delivered, no questions asked, at the hot tub. You advertise the service with a cannabis-friendly ski package operator and travel agent, and voila – customer base is assured. If you have any celebrity friends who are willing to promote it, even better. And why not, while you are at it, do some LinkedIn outreach.

No cash needed either. ID verification happens with coin purchase.

Easy, right? So many headaches solved with one coin to rule them all. Banking issues evaporate along with a lot of work for accountants at both ends of the conversation. And the price of the coin you issue cannot be illegally pumped and dumped because the “price” is set by the state or federal market and/or supply and demand and/or another kind of asset (like a piece of real estate designed to be a startup incubator space for which people also pay entrance fees in your tokens, to enter and use). Then you can offer these “coins” for sale, at those market prices, set by the dried bud you are growing, to anyone, anywhere, to invest in too. Right?

No ICO, even. No problem. After all, you say they aren’t securities but “utility tokens.”

Wrong.

By definition, such activity is illegal in the United States if it has anything to do with the plant for the same reasons the U.S. industry remains a mostly cash-only business. There are several U.S. start-ups trying to construct “legal” payment gateways for the industry right now in the lower 48 plus 2 (see CanPay in Hawaii) and some creative efforts in Europe. However, all of those depend on the willingness of a banking institution on the other end to allow that to happen. See Uruguay if you still remain optimistic about any American efforts right now. Not to mention the newly awoken willingness of the federal DOJ to prosecute for money laundering in a post-Cole-memo world. And that includes you too, California.

But this is an issue that is not just limited to the United States.

In other places, like Canada, Australia, Israel and the Eurozone, legitimate cannabis businesses have bank accounts. And banks are absolutely involved in both the blockchain and crypto space – see Ripple. As a simplified payment gateway, the technology is imminently useful, if still forming. But banking authorities are so concerned about ICOs that they are moving, quietly, to implement policies against them even as they are still accepting cyber currency (in limited ways and via strictly controlled channels).

Given such concerns and divided loyalties, it is unlikely that authorities in Canada will sit this one out, even though (and perhaps because), to date, the most intriguing ideas about cryptocurrency and cannabis have tended to waft from this part of the world lately given what is about to happen this summer.

Most dangerous of all to the budding crypto cannapreneur is Germany – home of legal, public health insurance covering medical cannabis. Banking regulators in Frankfurt, in particular, have taken a dim view of even just regular old crowdfunding. Add a token into the mix and the Germans are even less amused. The persistent rumor in the Fintech community in Frankfurt this March is that German banking authorities are refusing to accept any funds raised during an ICO anywhere. Verboten for any purpose. Why? Even if they know who you are, and all of your investors meet their KYC requirements, they do not know the source of the cyber currency coming from those investors. No dice. And KYC in this instance does not refer to a new brand of cannabis-flavored lubricant. It is a term that means, in the most comprehensive understanding of how it must be used, not only “know your customer” but being able to verify all points of data on a chain. Including the coin issuer, purchase conditions, currency used to purchase the same and “chain of title” downstream. If you are confused by this already, you should not be engaged in an ICO right now.Not all of these models or even the ICOs that use them are scams.

Add cannabis to this recipe, and every bank in Germany, even the one at the moment who is still more or less openly participating in ICOs, if not the rest of the European financial community, will probably walk. Even if you reach your “hard cap” (the maximum amount you hope to raise) that might be in the tens if not hundreds of millions of euros. In that case, it will probably be even harder to find a bank to accept your business. Worse, you may never raise the amount you hope for. At that point, you cannot go back to traditional venture capitalists – or anyone else – for more money. You are done. You must start over from scratch. If there was an asset of any kind involved (including a license to do business) legally, everyone who holds a coin owns a piece of it. See securities law. This is precisely why you can never raise money again against that asset or with the corporate entity that owns it. Or at least not without a lot of legal fees or begging your peeved investors for more money. Legally, at that point, they could require you to sell all assets associated with the corporate entity holding the ICO. And they probably would. For investors that is the best-case scenario. ICOs for concepts with no assets or strategic partnerships in place at the time of the “token sale,” create many lose-all scenarios for investors.

There are many pitfalls to this world – and not just from the cannabis side.Issuing a “token” that someone has to pay for that acts like cash (even if to buy goods and services in the future from other members of the ecosystem and social community that crypto coins create) that also is vulnerable to market pricing, is another quagmire. In fact, it might be, beyond any techno or financial queasiness about blockchain, the biggest reason that this industry should look, and with considerable caution, at all tokenized and ICO models that also premise their worth on the idea that such coins will inevitably increase in worth over time. There is also anti-cartel, monopoly and market discrimination to consider.

Not all of these models or even the ICOs that use them are scams. There are and will be valuable alt currencies and tokens in the future (even without a cash value assigned). All of the top start-ups in the current ICO space, in fact, are finding unique ways to create a real alternative currency with values attached that are indisputable. And not all of them will succeed.

However, that is not true of the cannabis business at this juncture. The plant, much like cryptocurrency and beyond that, blockchain itself, has not reached mainstream status yet – starting with market economics and regulation that is already international. A pot-based coin, no matter where it is issued and by whom (including a federal government), would run into multiple issues with valuation just because the price of cannabis itself right now is so volatile, not to mention unevenly priced thanks to jurisdictional restrictions and barriers. For that reason, there is no way to issue a “cannabis coin” with global relevance, much less global value.

And that, of course, is beyond the issue of subsequently selling those coins on exchanges that have been repeatedly hacked, fail to give customers access to their accounts, or are, in the case of China, banned outright (which also deemed ICOs illegal last September).

There are many pitfalls to this world – and not just from the cannabis side. Part III of this series will look at some of the biggest opportunities when cannabis integrates with the DLT (distributed ledger technology).

Marguerite Arnold
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Paradox or Paragon? A Non-Techie Look at Blockchain, Cryptocurrency & Cannabis: Part I

By Marguerite Arnold
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Marguerite Arnold

Disclaimer: Marguerite Arnold has just raised the first funds for her blockchain-based company, MedPayRx in Germany (and via traditional investment funding, not an ICO). She will also be speaking about the impact of blockchain on the cannabis industry in Berlin in April at the International Cannabis Business Conference.


You have probably heard of cryptocurrencies, tokens and smart contracts. You might have also heard, even if you did not understand the significance, that IBM recently suggested that the Canadian government use their form of blockchain, called Hyperledger, to track the recreational cannabusiness. Or that a large LP called Aurora is also looking at this space (as are other licensed producers large and small). Or maybe you have seen an item in the mainstream news about an ICO for a cannabis company that is now also going terribly wrong.

What on earth is going on?

These are all related issues, even if highly confusing and disjointed. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency are hot right now and getting hotter – both in the mainstream world and in the cannabis industry globally. But for all its fans, the drumbeat for caution is also growing louder the more mainstream this technology (and the legitimate cannabis industry) becomes.

The many problems the entire cannabis vertical has with banking has make this current development almost inevitableOn the technology and finance side, that is why so many big names right now are urging caution. Nouriel Roubini, professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, is just the latest to do so – and for reasons that everything to do with history. Including recent history ten years ago, when the world stood on the brink of a financial disaster thanks to unchained derivatives. The biggest worry in fact, right now, is about the financial implications of widespread adoption of the technology, beyond the tech itself and how it may (and may not) be legitimately used. Which itself is a huge question.

So why all the fuss?

This is revolutionary technology which is also being introduced into the market at a time when decentralized processing for automation is on the horizon. But also because blockchain can be used to create tokens or digital coins that act like financial instruments. And once created, such tokens can be issued much like money or even stock, to raise additional funds – for both start-ups and ongoing enterprises. The best thing though? This technology was invented to create a decentralized form of value exchange and trust-less, anonymized auditing and verification. No traditional financial institutions or even governments needed, wanted or should apply (at least in theory).

The many problems the entire cannabis vertical has with banking has make this current development almost inevitable. Not to mention accessing investment cash (although this is certainly changing outside the United States). Compliance issues in every direction are another wrinkle this tech will help solve. Starting with tracking product but also rapidly expanding to uses including protecting users’ privacy and facilitating access to high-quality, inspected product for qualified users and buyers. Not to mention other areas that are literally space-age but coming fast. Look for cool stuff coming soon involving both AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (internet of things).

It is a fascinating, complex space. However, one aspect of this world, in particular, Initial Coin Offerings – or ICOs are getting attention right now. Why? They can be an incredibly efficient way to raise money for companies – both ones currently in business and start-ups with little more than a whitepaper or business plan and perhaps a working prototype. More and more of the successful ICOs are, however, for an existing company or are even attached to an asset, including a license, a prototype or a fund of money (or other combinations). They also rely on blockchain and alternative currency or tokens (sometimes also referred to as smart contracts) to work.

From a technology perspective, you can “mint” new coins relatively easily these days, sourced from a variety of different kinds of blockchain. Or even combinations thereof. You also can issue tokens or altcoins without an ICO.

In a world where there is vastly expanding cannabis opportunity, and many of these hopeful entrepreneurs are both digitally astute but without access to traditional capital, what could be better?

bitcoin
Bitcoin quickly became one of the more popular cryptocurrencies

From a financial and investor perspective, ICOs are a hybrid form of an IPO meets social media. “Coins,” “tokens” and “smart contracts” –or cyber currency collectively– are digital forms of cash, contracts, membership cards, discounts or even authorizations for identity. There are many ways tokens can be used, in other words. This by way of saying there are also important differences too. Not all tokens are the same. Not all are used as “money.” Some are but have assets assigned to them (like real estate). Others, particularly smart contract tokens, are strictly functional (pay funds when product is delivered and verified). The one caveat here is that the exchange of any token or altcoin will also cost money. Why? It is the electricity cost of computer processing the request for transfer. Plus access and service fees. There is no such thing as a “free” token. How tokens are priced, sold, bought, maintain value and for what purposes, is a debate if not process function that will not be solved anytime soon. Starting with the fact that some blockchains are more energy efficient (and sourced from green energy) than others.

To add to all of this confusion, not all ICOs function the same way. Some do give investors ownership in the company or specific portfolios that even include real-world assets. Others offer to use pooled funds to buy assets (like real estate or an expensive license). Many rely on the “coin” issued as a kind of discount scheme, reward mechanism and in many cases, direct discounted payment for future goods and services, of both the digital and real world kind. Many offer banking services directly, including in the very near future, the ability to exchange cyber cash for the fiat variety at even remote ATMs. Sound futuristic? It is coming and soon.

Most ICOs in the market now, however, rely on the following supposition: Issue a token with a unique name. Put up an ICO website. Encourage investors from anyplace on the planet with an internet connection, to use either crypto or fiat currency to buy tokens in the issuing startup as an investment that will give the new company funds to operate and build out services or the application (whatever that is). Also, plan to use the tokens for an exchange of some kind in the future (either for other coins or a good or service). Watch the value of the coin increase (for whatever reason) while informing investors (or contributors) that this is not really a security but a “utility” token that is expected but not guaranteed to become more valuable. Retire early with the prospect of having brokers of expensive real estate in places like London and Dubai come calling.The public tide of opinion, even if regulations are slow to move, is on the side of reform if not outright advocacy.

That will not be the case for the vast majority of ICOs, however, no matter what returns, goods or services they offer. Even if they also have vibrant communities already using their services (whatever those are). It will not be the case for most of the cryptocurrencies upon which such ICOs are based (most at the moment are based on Ethereum, NEO, Hyperledger or combinations of the three). There will be more of those too. And not every blockchain will make it (cryptocurrencies and tokens are based on an origin protocol or blockchain much like computer operating systems are either PC or Mac or mobile phones are Android or Apple). Some speak to one another well. Most do not “exchange” easily – even between themselves – let alone back into good old cash. And while nobody wants to be the Betamax of blockchain, there will, inevitably, be quite a few of them. When that happens, any economic value of the coins and even contractual relationships created with them disappear as well. Add in extreme price volatility in the current market pricing of these tokens, and you begin to get a sense of the risk profile involved in all of this.

The real hurdle, not to mention expense, comes when transferring back from the world of crypto to the one of fiat (regular money). Being a Bitcoin billionaire (there are about 1,000 individuals who own about 40% of the entire global Bitcoin issuance) is no fun if you have no place to spend it.

A Rapidly Changing Marketplace

In the past 18 months, cryptocurrency and ICOs have gotten increasing attention because of the increasing value of all kinds of cyber currency (far beyond Bitcoin). The total market cap for all forms of cryptocurrency itself zoomed past $700 billion at the turn of the year. That is impossible to ignore. You might have heard of some of these currencies too. There is ETH, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Dash, even Dogecoin (created originally as a joke on an internet dog meme). Right now, in fact, at some of the most expansive exchanges, there are literally hundreds of these coins which are constantly bought and sold if not exchanged and used.

paragon advertisement
This has red flags written all over it.

And then there are the sums ICOs are bringing in some cases, flagrantly flaunting regulatory agencies and doing end runs on the global banking system that cannot keep up with them. The top ICO of 2017, a company called Block.one and registered in the Cayman Islands, so far holds the record at $700 million and counting. Filecoin, the second largest ICO last year, raised $262 million in one month from August to September. And then, of course, there is the cannabis industry-specific case of Paragon – now headed for class-action lawsuit litigation over their $70 million pre-and ICO sale intentions.

It would be logical to assume, given the eye-watering sums potentially involved not to mention the large role a smart digital media footprint has to do with an ICO’s success, beyond its service or technology offerings, that this would be a perfect place for cannapreneurs to turn for funding. The global market is opening for cannabis reform at the same time the crypto craze meets Fintech Upheaval is occurring – in fact, these two things are happening almost simultaneously.

Thanks to regulatory realities and an ongoing stigma, there is still no institutional investment in the industry in the United States (that is rapidly changing other places). These are two new industries and dreams are large.

In the legit cannabis space, so are the expenses.

The price of opening a dispensary in most U.S. states tops a million dollars right now. In Europe, the price of entry is even more expensive. A GMP compliant grow facility in Western Europe, plus the money for lawyer’s fees and negotiations for the license itself will set you back anywhere from $20 million and up, depending on the location. Even staying afloat in the industry once the doors are opened is a challenge. And loans, even for outstanding invoices, are still tough to come by in an industry where banking services of the simple business account kind are a challenge. Particularly in the United States.

The public tide of opinion, even if regulations are slow to move, is on the side of reform if not outright advocacy. Why shouldn’t a reform-group-rooted ICO aspire to own or provide ongoing business financing to a community-minded canna farm in California, Canada, Germany, Israel or Australia? Or even Greece?

However, right now, with some noted exceptions, the cannabis business remains at minimum, a dangerous place to consider issuing altcoins that act like financial instruments or raise money with them. Why and how?

Part II of this series will look at the significant liabilities of using cryptocurrency and ICOs in the cannabis industry.

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Digitalization Begins To Innovate Insurance Industry: What Does That Mean For Cannabis?

By Marguerite Arnold
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Munich, Germany- In a darkened movie studio on the east end of town, the Digital Insurance Agenda or DIA, the largest insurtech conference in the world, kicked off its annual event in mid-November. The sold-out event attracted about 1,000 top insurance executives from 40 countries and all six continents.

CannabisIndustryJournal attended from the perspective of investigating the overall status of digitalization in the industry. However, there were a couple of things we were on the hunt for. The first was to see how and where blockchain has begun to penetrate the industry. This revolutionary processing and identification layer of digital communications is coming – and fast – to the insurance industry everywhere.

All image credits: MedPayRx (Instagram)

We were also there of course to see if cannabis was anywhere on the agenda. Digitized or not.

By way of disclosure, I am also a high tech entrepreneur with my own insurtech, blockchain-based start-up that we are in the process of launching. MedPayRx is intended to be the first insurance product that will help patients access their meds facing nothing but their co-pay and help insurers automate the approvals process for all prescription drugs and medical devices.

By definition, in Germany, this includes medical cannabis.

Ultimately, our mission is to take the paper and the pain of all reimbursement out of the prescription process. At present, as anyone with a chronic condition knows, many medications and medical devices must be paid for out of pocket first and then reimbursed via a claims process that is paper-based, laborious and expensive. This is not a model that works for anyone. Certainly not poor and chronically ill patients who face this process at least monthly. And certainly not insurers who are now facing higher drug costs if not more claims reimbursements for the same from an aging population.

In a country like Germany where 90% of the population is covered by public health insurance, the situation also poses quandaries of a kind that are rocking the fundamental concept of inclusive public healthcare.

The Impact of Digitalization On The Insurance Industry

As one insurance executive and speaker mentioned from the stage during DIA, there are few industries that are more universally despised than insurance in general. And few verticals where the existing mantra is “you cannot do it worse.” The insurance industry is well aware of that. Further, for all insurances that are not “mandatory” the competition is fierce for consumers’ bucks. Particularly in places like Europe where insurance is also seen as a kind of savings scheme.

If you are a private insurer, of any kind, or offering services to both end consumers and B2B services, you are out of the game if you are not now thinking how to streamline and upgrade all aspects of your business in the digital era. There are many start-ups now tackling what is euphemistically called “cloud2cloud” integrations.

What does that mean?

According to DIA co-founders Reggy de Feniks and Roger Peverelli, the influence of tech in general is here to stay and is now driving widespread innovation across the industry. “The DIA line-up and the massive response among the audience show that insurtech is now mainstream,” says de Feniks. “This edition clearly showed the…ever growing attention for artificial intelligence, machine learning and other shapes of advanced analytics.”

“Platform thinking, thinking beyond insurance and creating new insurtech enabled services will be the next challenge for insurers,” added Peverelli.

Subtext? Insurers want your data. They want to use tech to analyse and understand it. The technology is here. But is the regulation? Specifically, in an industry that wants to know everything about you, how is privacy understood and implemented with revolutionary tech?

A Cloud-Based Future

Paper is rapidly becoming an old-fashioned concept in insurance, much like it has in banking. And like banking, insurance has a strong “financial” side to it. Germans, for example, tend to use insurance policies as retirement accounts, (the idea of a 401K is almost unheard of here). And by far, the most dynamic and digitalized part of the industry tends to be in areas unrelated to healthcare.

Some of the most interesting start-ups at DIA were actually weather-based.

The challenges of these types of insurtechs of convincing both regulators and the industry that such services are not only feasible but needed, pale in comparison however, to the challenge now facing all public health insurers.

And while they were certainly present at DIA, this industry segment was underrepresented at the November gathering. There is a reason for this. The real threat to consumer medical privacy is only growing, not receding in an era where data can be seamlessly transferred globally and digitally.

For that reason, blockchain has many uses and applications in this part of the vertical.

MedPayRx – even as a pre-seed start-up, was not, even this year, the only blockchain-based service we found in attendance at DIA. Next year look for even more.

Blockchain might be the next new “buzzy” tech, but in the insurance industry, there is a real reason for it.

What Was The Response To A Cannabis-Themed “Insurtech?”

As readers in the United States know, health insurance and cannabis is a loaded subject. And while insurance services are beginning to be available as high-risk commercial services for the industry, inclusive health insurance is still off the table because of the lack of federal reform.

Other places, however, the issue is taking a fascinating turn. And in Germany, right now, the situation so far has shaped up to be cannabis vs. public health insurance. It is a mainstreaming trial drug in other words. For that reason, beyond any lingering but rapidly fading stigma, it is a fertile time to be in the middle of it, with a tech solution.

It is also perfect timing from the digitalization and privacy perspective. Unlike the U.S., Germany in particular has tended to keep its insurance services, certainly on the health front, undigitalized because of privacy concerns. That is no longer feasible from a cost perspective. It is also increasingly one that has to be dealt with from a tech and regulatory one.

Why Is CannabisIndustryJournal At DIA?

My nametag identifying me as both “media” and of a certain green source, was the source of endless discussion with everyone I talked to. Many attendees were extremely curious about why a cannabis industry publication was at an insurance conference. And most people, certainly the non-Germans in attendance, were unaware that per federal law, cannabis is now, at least in theory, covered by public health insurance here.

Medical insurance that treats cannabis just like “any other drug” is a discussion at the forefront of the medical community in Europe. Even if not at health insurance industry events like DIA. Yet. In the last year, in fact, Dutch insurers have started refusing to cover the drug as the German government moved forward on mandating coverage.

In other places, like Australia, Israel and Canada, the conversation is also proceeding, albeit slowly within the context of public health coverage.

However compliance and tracking of the drug itself, not to mention the need for research on how cannabis interacts with other drugs mandates a consideration of how digital health records, privacy and tracking can exist in the same conversation. And further, can be accessed by the insurance industry, the government and policy makers as reform moves into its 2.0 iteration – namely federal recognition of the drug as a legitimate medicine.

We at MedPayRx think we have one answer. And next year, we hope to present from the stage as we continue to move forward with engaging the insurance industry here on all such fronts. Not to mention helping move the conversation forward in other places. And of course, launching services.