Microsoft Makes Move into Marijuana Industry

Microsoft Makes Move into Marijuana Industry

In case you think marijuana hasn’t gone mainstream: Microsoft is now weed- compliant.

As Nathaniel Popper writes, the company better known for instigating a mind-expanding number of PowerPoint presentations has thrown in with a Los Angeles start-up to offer software that helps governments monitor sales and commerce in states where pot is sold legally.

It’s a sensible move, considering how widespread the legal marijuana industry has become in the past few years and how rapidly it is growing. This fall, five states will vote on legalizing marijuana to one degree or another. The largest vote is in California, where pot is already allowed for a wide range of medical complaints.

Marijuana legalization follows an interesting and little-noted curve in America’s relationship with vice: Major recessions, which lower tax revenue, tend to create the legalization (and heavy taxation) of commonplace illicit practices. The Great Depression brought back drinking. State lotteries became widely popular in the long downturns of the 1970s. The recession of 2008 seems to have lit a million legal joints. Who knows what we’ll get with the economic shock that doubtless lies a few decades hence.

Of course, legal marijuana is very much a vice of its time, too, with high-tech features. Even before November’s vote on fully legalizing marijuana in California, there are meet-ups for budding (forgive me) marijuana start-ups involved in branding, delivery systems and cookbooks. A site called Cannabis Reports says it tracks the genetic characteristics of over 9,000 varieties. Industry conferences are frequent, even before there is an industry.

Microsoft isn’t doing anything quite so bong-friendly, of course, but rather providing another service in its capacious offering of software for managing government functions. That is still a pretty big deal, because the official (and vocal) involvement of a mainstream American company in any part of the business helps legitimize it.

It may have been easier for Microsoft than others, because it is headquartered in Seattle. Voters there said yes to legal marijuana in 2012, and the first store opened in 2014.

Or maybe it could be one of history’s oldest legal highs: the prospect of making a lot of money. As Mr. Popper reports, legal marijuana sales are expected to hit $6.5 billion this year, a 35 percent increase from 2015. If California and some others come in for recreational use, that figure could reach $25 billion. There’s good money in software to tax Big Weed.

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