Volume 31 Number 9
[Don't Get Me Started]
Mary Jane Grows Up
By David Platt | September 2016
People of my generation remember the progression of marijuana, from a serious felony substance, to a misdemeanor, and now more or less legal in many places. I knew that legalization had reached its tipping point when I saw Microsoft entering the legal marijuana business.
“WHAT??!!” I hear you shout. “Microsoft? Weed?” Indeed. What the heck do you mean, Plattski?
As of this writing, the laws of 24 states, containing half the U.S. population, allow some form of legal marijuana, primarily medical. Of these, four states have legalized recreational use, including Microsoft’s home state of Washington. Two more states will be voting on medical marijuana this November, and four more on full legalization.
In states where weed is legal, the industry is tightly regulated. Weed can only be grown by certain licensed parties, sold by other licensed parties, taxes paid at various points; not unlike the booze industry. While couched in the language of public protection, most such regulation exists to ensure that the government gets its cut of the money—again, like booze. Weed itself may not be addictive, but the money it generates sure is.
It is this government regulatory apparatus that Microsoft now plans to serve (see nyti.ms/2a0BUmV). Microsoft will be working with a partner company named Kind (bit.ly/29EDs0D), which develops software that tracks marijuana plants from seed to sale. Microsoft will be packaging and marketing this software in its Azure Government cloud environment. (Insert obligatory clouds of smoke joke here.) Hmmm, Office365, Dynamics CRM and dope tracking. OK, whatever.
“We do think there will be significant growth,” said Kimberly Nelson, Microsoft’s executive director of state and local government solutions. “As the industry is regulated, there will be more transactions, and we believe there will be more sophisticated requirements and tools down the road.”
With flattening growth for its legacy products, opening this new channel into a rising industry makes good sense for Microsoft.
So Microsoft is helping state and local governments implement their laws. What’s the big deal? The answer is that marijuana is still banned under U.S. federal law, a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Even doctors can’t legally prescribe it. While the Obama administration announced seven years ago that it would not prosecute marijuana operations that comply with state laws, the conflicting regulations generate great uncertainty in the market. For example, many banks, leery of federal regulators combing their books, have refused service to this emerging industry, forcing state-legal marijuana businesses to operate solely with cash.
Microsoft is the first major company to step over this line and provide modern business services to this quasi-legal industry. But Microsoft’s impact goes far beyond the services themselves. Like diplomatic recognition of a new country, Microsoft’s public embrace projects a legitimacy that this infant industry desperately craves.
I’m guessing the federal laws likely will loosen, regardless of who wins the presidency in November. Surely a President Trump would pursue the money that legalized weed brings to state coffers. The feds currently don’t get a dime of it. And surely a President Clinton would want her husband to legally inhale next time.
As a father of teenagers, I find my feelings about legalized weed to be very different from those I harbored as a college student. I wouldn’t be happy to see my daughters smoking weed, but I’d be far less happy to see them thrown in the slammer for it. Marijuana exists (stop me if I get too technical here). I’d rather see it treated as a public health problem than a law enforcement problem.
I remember, right out of school, a friend of mine having a job offer rescinded because he admitted on his application to smoking marijuana. “Russ, it’s not the dope they care about,” I told him. “You just flunked the intelligence test by admitting it.” I’d rather see a job offer hinge on a programming test, wouldn’t you?
I remember Tech Ed in Atlanta in 2001. Microsoft’s keynote presentation featured a company that developed software for the booze industry, tying together the systems of the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer. The audience marveled at their skill, and legally enjoyed some of the merchandise at that night’s reception. I wonder how long before we see this with weed?
David S. Platt teaches programming .NET at Harvard University Extension School and at companies all over the world. He’s the author of 11 programming books, including “Why Software Sucks” (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) and “Introducing Microsoft .NET” (Microsoft Press, 2002). Microsoft named him a Software Legend in 2002. He wonders whether he should tape down two of his daughter’s fingers so she learns how to count in octal. You can contact him at rollthunder.com.