Will Robots Take Over the Cannabis Industry?

An engineer at Bloom Automations performs a “trim test.” The effects of automation in the cannabis industry could have implications beyond the men and women who make their living trimming and separating cannabis leaves from the buds. COURTESY BLOOM AUTOMATIONS

This article, along with others about the growing legalization of marijuana, is featured in Newsweek's Special Edition: Weed Nation

Robots are a touchy subject when it comes to their incorporation into industrial roles currently occupied by humans. On the one hand, the allure of progress and automation is undeniable. An ever more efficient process is one of the fundamental drivers behind our modern market. On the other hand, as more industries are automated, workers are left to worry exactly how they'll feed themselves and their loved ones in a job market where they have to compete with robots who never get tired, sick, ask for a raise, show up late or any of the other things humans are bound to do at some point.

The cannabis industry is no different, with legal investments on a large scale creating a push for cannabis technology that is clashing with the fact that the backbone of the cannabis industry is still old-fashioned human-powered harvesting. But the effects of automation in the cannabis industry could have implications beyond the men and women who make their living trimming and separating cannabis leaves from the buds. Automated budtenders, packagers and even joint rollers, if they catch on, could be the beginning of the end for professions as diverse as cigar rollers and bartenders.

Trimming the Harvest Fat

According to Jon Gowa, the CEO and founder of Bloom Automations, the robotic future of cannabis is already here. "We're looking at robots that could use cameras [to] actually look at the cannabis and understand each different plant," Gowa told Ganjapreneur. And these aren't necessarily the giant, imposing robotic arms of factories past: They're closer to Honda's Asimo than something from the GM factory floor. "Our next generation robot, it does wield a pair of shears. They look quite like regular scissors, and it uses an articulated arm that enables it to be more dexterous," Gowa continued. Yes. Give the robots scissors. What could go wrong?


The robots that take care of tasks on factory floors such as palletting, taping and boxing were some of the first to be incorporated into the workforce. They reduced the time involved in the process and limited the need for humans down to perhaps only the forklift driver who would move the packaged goods. But as the cannabis industry moves from the black market into the mainstream, opportunities for large-scale investments like robot packagers are now more viable than they were when such an investment could be rendered worthless at any point by a government seizure. Though the general trend in cannabis is currently toward the craft movement, as the industry grows, the presence of packaging robots will likely be a harbinger of the turning point toward full automation.

For Those About to Roll

The New York Post called it the Stoner's Dream Machine, which isn't far off. Not even the most experienced cannabis smoker could knock out the 100 joints the Futurola Knockbox can roll in just three minutes. As dispensaries in Las Vegas poised to open to the public, it was this Dutch-made automaton that made certain Sin City would have enough prerolls for the eager-to-party masses. Cannabis and papers are loaded into the machine, which grinds the flower and rolls it into perfect one-gram cone joints. What this contraption can do in minutes would take hours for a skilled roller.

Bot Butler

The app that harkens back to the days when the screens in our pockets were known as Personal Digital Assistants, Pot Bot is meant for cannabis patients and recreational users who want to optimize their cannabis choices. Pot Bot asks a series of questions regarding the user's condition, makes strain recommendations and even lets you know where you can find a doctor who can prescribe your required treatment. In other words, the human budtender, after such a short time in existence, is already close to becoming an endangered species. Hooray for innovation?

This article, by Senior Editor Tim Baker, was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition: Weed Nation. For more on the changing laws and attitudes on legalization pick up a copy today.

Weed Nation #2 Cover
Topix Media Lab