You'd think Microsoft would have its hands full dealing with its acquisition of LinkedIn, just announced on Monday, and all the adjustments and questions that will go with it. You'd also think buying an iconic social media company might be enough to prove that the new Satya Nadella version of Microsoft is a whole lot hipper than the old Steve Ballmer version.
Apparently not. Just in case we needed any more proof that a new day has dawned over in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft today announced it will become the first major technology company to openly serve the, um, blossoming marijuana industry. "This is an entirely new field for us," Kimberly Nelson, Microsoft's executive director of state and local government solutions told The New York Times.
Marijuana exists in an odd regulatory state, legal for at least some medical uses in 20 states, and legal for recreational use in three, including Microsoft's home state of Washington. Meantime, it remains illegal under federal law, although most experts now consider it unlikely that even under a Republican president the feds would crack down on this rapidly growing industry.
Banks, being federally regulated, have mostly stayed well away, forcing marijuana dispensaries to either operate on a cash-only basis or work with special kiosks, such as those provided by Kind Financial, a startup based in L.A. Microsoft is partnering with Kind to provide software as part of its cloud-based Azure Government allowing state governments to track marijuana seed-to-sale for regulatory compliance and tax purposes.
If Microsoft is looking to replace future revenues lost as the personal computer industry dwindles, this is a big step in the right direction. "We do think there will be significant growth," Nelson said. "As the industry is regulated, there will be more transactions, and we believe there will be more sophisticated requirements and tools down the road."
Indeed. And you can just see the younger executives at once-stodgy Microsoft thumbing their noses down the coast at Google. Who are the cool kids now?