As VR technology develops in the coming decades with upgrades like eye tracking, there’s a huge benefit for accessibility, especially for users with disabilities. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
As AR and VR grows in popularity, the cannabis industry is predicted to move into a virtual world making digital dispensaries a norm.
As the virtual reality (VR) industry rapidly grows—with over five million headsets sold in 2016, and numbers forecasted to rise to 68 million units by 2020—Canadian cannabis producers like Biome Grow and CannTrust are looking into tech-savvy ways to promote their products.
Having recently acquired Weed VR (June of 2018), Biome Grow, Nova Scotia-based licensed cannabis producer, views VR as the natural evolution of e-commerce.
“Acquiring Weed VR will allow us to deliver a convenient and quality experience to our Canadian consumers, and increase consumer accessibility across Canada and international markets, through virtual, augmented and mobile platforms,” said Khurram Malik, president of Biome Grow, in a statement.
Fezz Stenton, technical director of Toronto-based Occupied VR and creator of Weed VR, which is one of the first major projects of its kind, insists that his app and others like it are “the beginning of a new virtual retail market.” “Weed VR doesn’t just stand for virtual reality, it stands for virtual retail, and we’re providing technology for the cannabis industry for consumer interaction and engagement,” said Stenton, who notes that one of its main target customers are people who have never consumed cannabis before or have a fear of it. “It’s a fun, engaging thing, but more importantly it’s educational and can be used to really help consumers eliminate the paralysis of choice or the fear of just trying it for the first time,” said Stenton.
Launched on 4/20/2017, Weed VR provides consumers with a multi-platform virtual catalog system where users can make educated and informed cannabis purchases. The app’s digital 3D scanning process aims to create the world’s first cannabis strain library containing information about strains from around the world.
As VR technology develops in the coming decades with upgrades like eye tracking, there’s a huge benefit for accessibility, especially for users with disabilities, and that’s what could make apps like Weed VR almost as ubiquitous as Amazon. “Down the line VR headsets will have eye-tracking abilities, which means that someone who is paralyzed in a wheelchair could browse our store at their leisure,” said Stenton. “Ultimately it’s the next logical step for online shopping. We went away from malls and brick and mortar stores for a lot of the things in our lives, and that went on to a website. But that platform, that engagement hasn’t really evolved since.”
One of the other major licensed producers also onboard the VR bandwagon is CannTrust. It began using VR at cannabis conferences in 2018 and has since been using it as an educational tool for customers. “What we’ve been doing is bringing the consumer to our greenhouse to teach them about cultivating cannabis,” said Kayla Rochkin, brand manager at CannTrust. “We think VR is a good tool because of the immersive experience it has to offer.”
Alberta-based licensed producer Royal Canadian Cannabis is also looking for ways to creatively skirt the packaging and advertising regulations without breaking the law by embracing augmented reality. “We are looking at using augmented reality to create a unique user experience with our package, which will serve as an interaction between the package and potential customers,” said Jonathan Kowal, co-founder of Royal Canadian Cannabis. “With the consumer’s smartphone, they will have access to additional information about our product and company through an augmented reality application.”
While the company is still in the very early stages of development, Kowal is confident that AR/VR technology will soon be widely adopted in the cannabis industry. “It’s definitely going to be one of the many advertising avenues that licensed producers will utilize,” said Kowal. “The cannabis industry as a whole will likely be one of the early-adopters of augmented reality for advertising simply out of necessity.”
Evan Gappelberg, CEO of NexTech AR Solutions, a Toronto-based subsidiary of Future Farm Technologies, a leading indoor cannabis growth technology company, says his company is on the verge of launching some leading-edge technology that will transform the cannabis industry.
“We have a suite of products which include augmented reality 3D brochures, where instead of showing a PDF on a company’s products, you can walk around the room and actually see 3D objects floating and experience the brand firsthand,” said Gappelberg. “And within that experience, we can livestream a brand ambassador who can talk to you even though he or she isn’t onsite.”
In addition, Gappelberg said that his team will also launch a new AR live streaming platform at the New West Cannabis Summit in Oakland, California in October.
“Imagine you have a budtender who is able to live stream pretty much anywhere at any time, and they’re right in front of you,” said Gappelberg. “[At the summit] we will be live streaming a soon-to-be-announced cannabis brand into our booth so consumers will be able to experience it on their phones by downloading our app and they’ll experience the world’s first AR live stream in the cannabis industry.”
Will this be legal?
One of the big questions on everyone’s mind is will apps like Weed VR be legal to use once legalization occurs next month.
Even though the current regulations, specifically the Cannabis Act, don’t specifically mention the use of VR as a promotional or educational tool used by licensed producers, Jay Rosenthal, co-founder and president of Business of Cannabis, makes a fair point. “Imagine an environment where you’re going with your cellphone into the cannabis store,” said Jay, adding, “You scan the SKU, the barcode, and it brings up on your phone all the information about the product. It’s probably a [legal] grey area in terms of the way how Canada handles regulations.”
When it comes to privacy concerns regarding the use of branded VR, it will likely depend on a customer’s technology savviness and how informed they are about protecting their privacy when using VR. “If you actually have a VR headset, I think you understand the privacy implications of being online and being in a virtual world,” said Rosenthal.