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LEGAL WEED

IBM Wants British Columbia to Track Legal Pot With Blockchain Tech

The blockchain could help stamp out the black market, IBM says.

Jordan Pearson

Jordan Pearson

Image: Flickr/GoToVan

Canada is gearing up for the legalization of weed next year, and the provinces are scrambling to figure out how they're going to manage and sell all that bud. Tech giant IBM recently pitched one possible high-tech solution to the British Columbia government: the blockchain.

Blockchain technology, which is behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, can help the BC government to stamp out the black market, the IBM document states.

IBM is heavily invested in the blockchain space, and offers a commercial platform to developers and companies that want to experiment with the technology. Blockchains are public ledgers that record every action occurring within the network. This ledger is distributed across many computers, meaning that it's nigh-impossible to forge an entry without anybody else noticing. For cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the blockchain keeps track of who owns what units of currency going all the way back to when the system was first switched on in early 2009.

Now, IBM Canada wants the BC government to use blockchain technology to keep track of weed as it goes from the manufacturer to some hoser's bong. Or, as the company put it in a document hosted on the BC government's website and marked November 1, "from seed to sale." The document was submitted as part of the BC government's recent public consultation on how to manage legal pot in the province, which ran from late September to November 1.

Read More: Weed Growers Are Racing to Register Their Strains on the Bitcoin Blockchain

"Our submission was in response to a government request," an IBM spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. "IBM expertise is used to help guide federal and provincial government clients on best-practices, planning and execution upon request."

The idea of tracking pot with the blockchain isn't a new one. US company Medical Genomics already offers a service for growers to have their bespoke strains genetically sequenced and marked for posterity on the Bitcoin blockchain.

An emailed statement from BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth stated that the government is reviewing all consultation submissions. "British Columbia's top priorities are the protection of young people, health and safety, keeping the criminal element out of cannabis and keeping our roads safe," the statement said.

The IBM document lays out the potential benefits of blockchain tech for managing weed sales in BC. The blockchain would allow the government to "take control of sourcing, selling and pricing of products," the document states, and "therefore can reduce or eliminate black market sales completely." The ledger system could also help producers manage their supply and, if the government sells the pot itself like Ontario plans, the blockchain could track retail purchases as well.

Basically, IBM is proposing a farm-to-table surveillance mechanism for weed in BC, where every transaction or action within the system can be tracked and data-mined. The blockchain could provide "trends of consumption through data analytics" and "create predictive insights," the document states.

The document does not advertise IBM's own blockchain products, instead commenting on the benefits of blockchains for pot tracking generally.

BC is a laggard when it comes to getting a pot plan together. Ontario has already revealed its roadmap for legal weed, which includes government-run stores and at this point doesn't have anything to do with the blockchain. But there's still time for BC, so who knows?

Next year, BC stoners might just have their pot purchases entered into a permanent, immutable, and distributed ledger. If you get anxious after smoking, it might be best not to think about that.

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