^Top image: a screenshot of the map of Green Care Network's user base
Michigan resident and automotive engineer Jerry Ghannam didn’t always have a positive opinion of cannabis. He says he held many of the stigmas the industry is fighting back against today–but after a lower back injury in 2001 led him to an ineffective prescription medication regimen, he sought out an alternative with a recommendation from his doctor: medical marijuana. After finding success, his impression of MMJ had changed, he says. And he began to cultivate cannabis for himself in accordance with state law.
But while he was setting up his grow site (Michigan allows residents to cultivate up to 12 cannabis plants for personal and caregiver use), he had difficulty locating unbiased service contractors–like electricians and plumbers–who would agree to do business with Ghannam. He’d also heard horror stories of customers being robbed by contractors days after the service was performed.
Then Ghannam had an idea. In an effort to help link growers, delivery services, processors, trimmers, dispensaries and doctors together, he established the Green Care Network, a website that helps industry members interact and conduct business from seed to sale in a “safe environment,” Ghannam says, in which only names and email addresses are exchanged, to protect the privacy of its users. Ghannam spoke with Cannabis Business Times’ Managing Editor Cassie Neiden to share more about Green Care Network’s development.
Cassie Neiden: Had you been hearing stories from cultivators about how they were having trouble acquiring these services that you have subscriptions to on your site?
Jerry Ghannam: Yes, I talked to a few growers who were running into some issues, but I was also running into the same issues: finding a contractor that would build out a grow room, or an electrician, somebody that’s safe to use. … Plus, you can go into the “Yellow Pages,” but the reality is, you want somebody who is grow friendly working on your stuff, that has your best interests in mind, and they just want you to refer their business out so they can continue operating. … Especially in the Michigan area, there are a lot of people who are pretty much growing, that are undercover medical marijuana patients nobody knows about, and chances are, if their company or people they interact with on their daily basis knew, a lot of them out would be out of their jobs.
When I was building the site, a friend of mine just happened by coincidence [to ask], ‘Do you have an electrician?’ And I said … ‘You can use my guy here,’ and I thought, ‘Wait a second. We can add him onto the site.’ Reached out to him, asked him, ‘hey how do you feel about doing more business, working with grow rooms?’ and he said yeah.
Another guy, a week or two after that, asked me for my HVAC guy–[and I] called him up and asked, ‘Do you want some extra business?’ [And we] put them up on the site. That’s where everything started to evolve. …
[There’s a] huge, huge gap in the industry. … Everybody is talking about seed-to-sale software in cultivation centers, so you know where product is within your four walls. But what I thought about when I started developing the system was, that requirements by the state laws are on the micro level. They focus entirely on where your product is only within your four walls, where our system is designed for everything outside of your four walls.
So posting your product, getting a secure transport to pick it up and move it, have laboratories test it, we’re making sure we’re covering everything from seed to sale.
^A screenshot of Green Care Network's user dashboard
CN: So how did you get the site going? Did you develop it yourself or did you hire an outside team?
JG: I’ve had a lot of growing pains with the development.
I was constantly changing the ideas of how I wanted to make the site. So the design has been running for about a year now, and is constantly evolving. We came up with a final version of it in September of last year. That’s when we finally published it online.
But I have a series of developers I use on a lot of my projects. …. Eventually I would like to bring everything in house so we have more speed and reaction time.
CN: How many people do you have on your team?
JG: Right now, three.
CN: And how many subscribers do you have to your website?
JG: We’ve been running since September; we’re [at] almost 5,400. The idea really took off here in Michigan.
CN: Is it specific to Michigan or is Green Care Network in other states?
JG: [Yes], Colorado is starting to pick up a little bit. Surprisingly, we’re starting to pick up a little more in California and Washington. But Michigan was a little slow to move only because we have some recent law changes, so I think everybody wanted to see where the mood was going to go with the state of Michigan before everybody reacted.
But then, once we developed the system, I immediately began discussions with the Michigan governor’s office. We’re going to be put on their schedule hopefully within the next couple of weeks, and pitch it as the standard system to use in Michigan.
CN: Say I’m a cultivator. Walk me through the process of using Green Care Network to connect with someone in the industry.
JG: We ask for an email address and a zip code. The zip code is important for geolocating. The way our system is designed is [that] anybody who is looking for a product or a service is [connected to someone] within 25 miles of their location. And we don’t cross state lines for obvious reasons.
As a grower, you would register with the site, [and] once you sign up with a subscription, you would post your products, and then dispensaries have the ability to see everything you have available.
But then on the left-hand side of your dashboard, there’s a small section that says, ‘What’s available near me.’ When you click on it, the words ‘Products and Services’ populate underneath, you would click either one, and it would show in a list style what’s available near you.
And then when somebody sees something they’re interested in, every line item has a button. I didn’t make it very complex. It says, ‘I’m interested.’ A text box [pops up] so you can type in whatever name you want, and our system generates email to the other network provider. Letting them know that this person with this contact information that we have, which isn’t much, is interested in your product or service you have available, this is how they’d like to be contacted, and then it gives all of the discretion up to the receiving network provider on how they want to make contact.
I’m always focused on testing and breaking the system, so to speak. I’m a quality engineer by trade, so my job outside of the Green Care Network, in the automotive industry, [is to] pretty much find problems and [solutions] to support them, so that’s where I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention.
^A screenshot of Green Care Network's add-menu-item feature
CN: So how do you gather people for this site? How do you gather your subscribers and your database? Is it all just word of mouth?
JG: Right now, we first started having some cards printed and taking them into local grow stores, but naturally when placing a business card or a 4x6 card–[and] you have a bunch of growers looking at it, [the] card looks great, [but people are] still skeptical because you’re introducing something completely new to them. A lot of people like dealing with what they know works.
… So a lot of times when I’m going into a grow store and dropping off more cards, and there are some [managers or decision makers] in there, I have to sit there for an hour or two and explain the process. Naturally, it starts to grow, you start explaining a little bit more on the process. I have an iPad on me at all times, I pull up the website, I show them how the system works. I show people using it. I say, ‘Here’s my user base, the content we have on the site,’ … So I think that helps them, but I think a lot more word-of-mouth is where it really solidifies, [when] somebody actually … jumps on the site, posts something, then tells their friends that it works--that they had a successful transaction and there was no risk--they made a new contact, and everything worked out exactly how we described it.
CN: So would it be safe for me to make the comparison that this is kind of like an Angie’s List for marijuana?
JG: Yes, that’s where we were taking it. We’re also testing our rating system with our grower-to-grower exchange, and we plan to operate similar to an eBay or Amazon where after you complete a transaction, you’re able to rate the person you dealt with. What that does is it give people more confidence that, ‘Yes I’ve worked with them, everything was great, smooth transaction, everything as promised.’
[In December], Michigan is going legal with commercialized [medical] cultivation centers, so we’re going to have to remove some of our subscribers if they don’t have an actual license, just to make sure everyone remains compliant with Michigan law. …