“The measured end of prohibition has opened up many opportunities […].”
- American Green President, Stephen Shearin
American Green became the first publicly traded medical marijuana dispensary brand in the world in 2009. Since then, the company has developed retail, brand, and commercial cultivating solutions in partnership with licensed retail medical marijuana dispensaries across the US.
American Green is a leader in the United States’ nascent cannabis industry. Recently, the company made head waves by introducing a cannabis vending machine that accepts bitcoin in Seattle following its debut in Colorado back in April of 2014. Besides the ZaZZZ machine, the company offers additional cannabis related products and owns several media properties as well as a cultivation division including Jurassic water.
Cointelegraph spoke with American Green President and COO, Stephen Shearin on the disruptive impact of both the cannabis and cryptocurrency industries, future plans for its vending machines, Bitcoin 2.0, and cannabis-specific crypto coins.
Cointelegraph: Could you first tell us about your company, American Green?
Stephen Shearin: American Green is publicly traded (OTCPK:ERBB) and is the largest of the companies on the marijuana index. American Green is keenly focused on developing, retailing, branding, and establishing commercial cultivation solutions under its proprietary American Green name, along with our partners who are licensed retail medical marijuana dispensaries.
CT: American Green became the first publicly traded medical marijuana dispensary brand in the world back in 2009. How has legalization in several US states affected you operations?
SS: The measured end of prohibition has opened up many opportunities for American Green. While we’re focused on cannabis from seed to sale, we like that everything we touch can be sold in other marketplaces.
“Cannabis businesses are not permitted to bank in anything that looks traditional, including the use of credit cards, which presents another big challenge.”
CT: What are some of the biggest challenges facing your industry right now?
SS: Eighty years of prohibition, the propaganda supporting it, as well as cannabis still being a schedule 1 narcotic – which is ridiculous – has left a fractured marketplace (state by state) filled with misinformation. We have to educate our way up, around and through this climate to reach both our clients and our clients’ clients. Cannabis businesses are not permitted to bank in anything that looks traditional, including the use of credit cards, which presents another big challenge.
CT: So why aren’t more cannabis-related businesses looking into cryptocurrencies?
SS: Ah, well per the previous answer, we’re obviously on the same page. It’s ignorance, volatility, adoption and confusion, in any order. Without adequate adoption there is no ‘critical mass’ of use. With the volatility, there is concern from owners that they could take their eye off the ball and lose all profit from the day with a big dip. Since they depend on their cash flow they can’t wait for the market to return. Without stores offering it, there is nothing to drive the consumer. And so on.
CT: Cindy Gallop stated in an interview that “the three huge areas of disruption today are sex, cannabis, and Bitcoin.” Do you agree with this statement?
SS: Hmm. Well, sex has always been disruptive and it certainly drove a lot of Internet innovation specifically regarding affiliate marketing and bandwidth.
“[…] I believe bitcoin is not going away. But there would have to be a reason for major uptake for me to really call it disruptive. My fingers are crossed.”
Cannabis has been a boon for several industries and marketplaces. If you go to the large B2B Cannabis shows, you’ll be amazed by the technology there, from the technology developed outside cannabis that’s now being applied to the space, as well as what’s been developed inside the industry. Some history buffs will tell you that the cause and solution to the Great Depression was tied to Prohibition. I’m inclined to agree but we aren’t starting inside a deep depression, so expect to see great things economically.
I got involved in the Internet in 1993 with the dream of a microcredit-based bank allowing people to pay for content as opposed to ads. I still think there is room for that. And with more and more professors teaching about bitcoin and distributed or decentralized banking, I believe bitcoin is not going away. But there would have to be a reason for major uptake for me to really call it disruptive. My fingers are crossed.
CT: How has the reception been so far for your Bitcoin-accepting Zazzz cannabis vending machine deployed in Washington State (and Colorado)? Are you expecting to have these in every state in the future?
SS: Just getting the machines out has been a combination of technology and regulatory hurdles, not to mention the educational challenges mentioned earlier. That, together with the adoption challenge, will make for slower than usual adoption. But with over thirty machines on their way to market, primarily in California, Colorado and Washington, and with the roll-out becoming a process instead of a learning experience, we’ll be able to invest some effort in exposing how easy it is to use bitcoin in the machine.
“[W]e’ll support and promote and educate to drive adoption [of Bitcoin] as we believe it’s safe, effective and efficient.”
CT: Is American Green accepting bitcoin and are you planning to support this payment method across your nationwide dispensary network?
SS: We facilitate the acceptance of bitcoin but since we don’t own the dispensaries (yet - due to regulatory climate) and since we aren’t permitted to sell or profit from the actual cannabis product, the dispensaries have to set up their own bitcoin account. We weave it into the interface of the machine at their location. But again, we’ll support and promote and educate to drive adoption as we believe it’s safe, effective and efficient.
CT: Besides currency, many so called Bitcoin 2.0 applications are being developed on top of the blockchain. Are you open or have you looked at possible implementations of this tech for record-keeping, contracts, provenance etc. that could potentially cut operating costs for businesses?
SS: I love the idea and really hope some iteration gains traction, but what we really need is a healthy, somewhat stable, bustling bitcoin economy. Sidechains and other ways of creating variations that can lay claim to the vaunted ‘2.0’ moniker are all great and natural in a maturing environment. But you must walk before you can run.
“Sidechains and other ways of creating variations that can lay claim to the vaunted ‘2.0’ moniker are all great and natural in a maturing environment. But you must walk before you can run.”
I feel like there is a lot of ‘shiny penny’ syndrome right when we are seeing some small wins that could drive that bustling economy. There is still press on bitcoin, but a lot of ‘dark net’ press is gone. There are teachers teaching about it, as I said. E-commerce engine Stripe just started taking bitcoin. These base hits are great. It’s like in “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. Just when he almost has the fire going, it heats the snow on the branch and the snow drops and puts out his fire. We need to take care of our little fire here first.
CT: What are your thoughts on cannabis-specific cryptocurrency such as Cannabiscoin, Potcoin etc.?
SS: I like the idea, but I think we need to get bitcoin firmly established before we divide the market. People need to understand how cryptocurrencies work and there needs to be the aforementioned critical mass before we start dividing the marketplace. Right now, if someone has taken the time to get an app, load their account with bitcoin and comes in to use it, the last thing I want to do is say ‘start over using this alternative.’ As soon as we can, we’ll add the alternatives in parallel and provide the option, but let’s just say it’s not paramount on the ‘to do’ list right now. Soon, we hope!
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