How tech is playing a part in sorting out cannabis rules and regulations

by Anthony Sodd
August 19, 2015


Colorado has thousands of laws relating to cannabis. There are laws covering everything from the labeling of cannabis products to where, and how security cameras are placed. There are laws about how the plants need to be tracked, and how cannabis can be advertised. Every facet of the industry is heavily regulated. Making matters even more complicated, different laws apply to medical marijuana than recreational marijuana. There is no centralized government database that houses all these laws — they’re scattered all over the place, and subject to change. For people operating in Colorado’s cannabis industry, it is a legal and regulatory nightmare.

That’s the problem CannaRegs set out to solve. The company created a searchable, centralized database of cannabis law for the state of Colorado. Unlike other law databases, however, CannaRegs’ database was created to be useful to attorneys and non-attorneys alike.

“We made it so that you don’t have to be an attorney or subject matter expert to understand what’s in there,” CannaRegs co-founder Amanda Ostrowitz said. “It’s something every compliance officer in the industry can use if they know simple characteristics about themselves and what they’re looking for.”

The system’s SmartSeach tool allows users to dig deep into the myriad of laws to find the one that actually applies to them. For example, you can tell the system you want to know about packaging and labeling regulations that apply to a recreational retail cannabis dispensary in Boulder County and it will spit out only the laws you need.

For complex laws, CannaRegs offers supplementary, explanatory documents breaking down the law into tables or bullet pointed explanations. They monitor any changes in the law, and send notices to users who may be affected. You’ll still need to keep an attorney on retainer for complex issues, but with the service you’re able to answer most questions on your own — which ultimately means less billable hours.

The company boasts some impressive legal talent. Ostrowitz left a job in banking law at the Federal Reserve. CannaReg’s General Council Bryna Dahlin was named one of Chicago’s 40 attorneys under 40, and left the prestigious Winston and Strawn law firm to help start the company. There are four other attorneys currently working for the company, with more set to join soon.

The company has been bootstrapped since its inception last year. Ostrowitz’s living room in Denver acts as the company’s headquarters. Stacks of law books prop up computer monitors placed on card tables buckling under the weight. When I visited, several members of the company’s legal team shared desks.

Soon that could all change. The company is beginning to seek capital to fund a rapid, national expansion. Nevada, Illinois and Oregon are all in the process of being coded into the database now, and should be live in the next couple of months. If all goes to plan, they hope to have CannaRegs live across the entire country within 18 months of completing their funding round.

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