Are Cannabis Delivery Drones Closer Than You Think?

Cannabis Delivery Drones – Fact or Fiction

Imagine you are sitting in your backyard when a drone flies over your head and drops off a package containing your pre-paid, pre-ordered cannabis. Over the past year, a number of news sources have reported as to the validity of such a service. Some are calling it non-sense, a publicity stunt designed to boost the name of whatever distribution center is claiming to have the technology. Others are buying in, providing research as to how drones are a real possibility. One of the latest operators to announce drone intentions is Trees, a bay area based cannabis concierge service aimed at the premium level cannabis consumer. In an effort to find out why and how a drone application could help a cannabis business, we tracked down Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees to tell us all about it.

Why Drones?

Cannabis companies are considering the implementation of drone technology to combat a number of different issues with current cannabis delivery systems. Such issues include, but are not limited to, traffic, gas prices, travel costs and customer comfort. Given the right system is put in place, drone applications would allow the business to execute a more efficient, quicker and cheaper delivery. Also, drones are cool. Whichever company is able to implement drone technology successfully should be able to establish a long lasting brand in the cannabis industry.

“Once cannabis is recreationally legal in California, there will be a boom in the cannabis industry. Competition is going to get really tough and margins are going to get thin. Businesses that incorporate technology, as we are doing with drones and electric bicycles, will be able to stay ahead of the game and adapt.” – Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees

Biggest Hurdles

Obviously, the biggest challenge with flying something around a well-populated area is first getting into compliance with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding drone usage is that the FAA does not, and will not, allow them to be used for commercial purposes. That is not the case. Currently, the FAA has issued a limited amount of licenses that allow for commercial drone use. However, the real hang up is that the FAA is still working out their guidance restrictions, which are to be released by June 2016.

“We have everything we need. We have the technology and the partners that have the FAA section 333-exemption license, which allows you to use drones for commercial use, but we won’t be able to go live until June 2016, when the FAA issues guidance. Right now, you can use drones for commercial purposes if you have this exemption, like our partner Aerovision, but they are relegated to doing aerial survey. It’s tricky. We’re all waiting. There are a lot of people out there that saw the video, and they’re like, “This is a hoax. This is a prank. You can’t actually do that.” We have. We’ve tested it. It works, and it’s awesome. – Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees

Liability Issues

Skeptics have been quick to point out the liability issues associated with a cannabis drone delivery system. What if the drone malfunctions? How easily can someone shoot it down and steal the contents? These are a couple of the most common counterpoints to drone use and are major problems to iron out for any company who hopes to take advantage of this new technology. However, new solutions to these issues are being discovered nearly everyday and Trees is of the opinion that successful drone application is closer than it ever has been before.

“There are definitely a lot of liability and procedural issues that we’re still working to sort out. What happens if the drone malfunctions? We are working to create all the right tech patches to prevent those issues. Meanwhile, the FAA is working on issuing the guidance for what this process will be. The FAA recently worked directly with another company out that recently accomplished the first drone delivery of a package of medicine in Virginia. That was FAA approved. It is happening. They’re working on issuing the traffic control grid guidelines for drones, and they’re building a system so they can monitor it. In the beginning all the drones are probably going to be piloted by humans. It will take a little while for everything to get automated, but it’s coming.” – Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees

The Wild West

In order to lower their liability, businesses that choose to use drone technology to facilitate deliveries will have to enact numerous safety regulations. As mentioned in the previous segment, there are a copious amount of hurdles to leap before a properly functioning system is put in place. However, the use of drone technology seems to mirror the cannabis industry in more ways than you think. Both are in their founding and developing stages, and in both industries, policy is being written almost as fast as change is happening. The crossover of one budding industry into another one is, in theory, creating a wild west within another wild west.

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to happen. We need to do a lot more testing in terms of collision detection, and drone malfunction. There are many scenarios that could cause problems. That is what we’re working on now while we wait for the guidance to get issued. It’s like a new frontier. Besides not being able to fly above 400 feet, or out of your sight unless you are on your own property, there really aren’t any drone laws in place. The expanded law is not there yet because the technology is so new.” – Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees

Can Trees Do It?

Who knows? Trees is not the first company to voice their intention to adapt drone technology. However, if they can successfully implement the technology, they could be one of, if not the first, to do so in the cannabis space. But what makes them think they can make it happen? What is their angle?

“We can make it happen because we’re super lean. So far, we have gotten much farther than our competition for a fraction of the cost. The evolution into this technology came naturally to us when we started the company. In the beginning, several companies reached out to us, but one was a good friend and former co-worker. He wanted to help us and I knew he was one of the first people to get the section 333-exemption. There are only 800 companies that have it, and they’re all government aerospace contractors, like Boeing and Lockheed. My friend works with Aerovision, who obtained the exemption because they were very early drone adopters. We aren’t throwing a bunch of money at the wall to see what sticks. We have the technology and the correct exemption in place, now all we have to do is adhere to the FAA guidelines when they are released next year.” – Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees

Answering Critics

It’s a publicity stunt! They’re just trying to make a name for themselves! Those are a couple of real concerns that are being voiced around stories like this as they hit the Internet. Are both of these scenarios a distinct possibility? Sure. What does Marshall have to say when he encounters skeptics?

“I say, look at the first drone delivery that just happened within the past month. I invite skeptics to come and meet me in the park. Let me deliver one within your line of sight to show you how it works. We have the technology and the ability to make this happen. Many people thought it was a hoax, but it is very real. We’re just sitting on our hands waiting for the government to pass the legislation, and then we are ready to go. We’d launch drone delivery tomorrow, if we could. Right now, we have to stick to old-fashioned delivery with couriers.” – Marshall Hayner, CEO and Co-Founder of Trees

The Verdict

The sad truth about the current application of drone technology is that only time will tell who is talking the talk and who is walking the walk. With the FAA guidelines just under a year away from being released, the drone remote control is sitting on the shelf, waiting to report for duty. In the case of Trees, old-fashioned car deliveries are first going to be replaced by electric bicycles, which is a solid first step in creating a reduced carbon footprint, in addition to a more efficient and cost effective delivery model. If and when the FAA allows air deliveries, then Trees will be able to further assert themselves as a dominant delivery concierge in the space.

As far as the eventual, real life application of a cannabis drone delivery system is concerned, it seems like the ‘We’ll believe it when we see it’ mindset is being adopted by the average consumer, and with good reason. The plethora of media coverage on the drone issue has over promised and under delivered. Furthermore, who knows what will happen around the cannabis industry as hopeful drone users await final instructions from the FAA next June. So what is the bottom line for consumers who are hoping to get a drone delivery anytime soon? Hurry up and wait. Hopefully you aren’t holding your breath.

What do you think about a drone delivery service? What are the biggest obstacles? Would a drone delivery impact which company you purchased from? Join the conversation and comment below!