The Road from New Law to Compelling Digital Service

By Josh Goldstein, Chief Product Officer

When we as citizens interact with city or state government, it’s often because the law requires that we do so. If we want to open a restaurant, for example, we apply for a business permit, get a building inspection, and register for a license to serve alcohol. Many of these requirements have existed, in one form or another, for decades if not longer.

For those of us who are passionate about making government simple and intuitive, new laws present a particularly exciting opportunity to build a digital service from the ground up with the latest technology and without the historical baggage.

As government technologists, we’ve been particularly careful watchers of how states design services after they legalize marijuana (the count of states with some form of legalization is now 33). We’ve noticed several trends that we think are worth considering, not just for people working on cannabis issues, but anyone thinking about how to design de novo digital services after new laws hit the books

Explain the Process Clearly

In many cities, the explicit cost of applying for a recreational cannabis dispensary permit is relatively low. However, the implicit cost is high. It often takes a long time just to understand what the steps are to getting a permit. When we talked to government agencies that oversee aspects of cannabis permitting (like with most permitting processes, there are many agencies involved), we found that much of their time is spent fielding calls with basic questions about the process.

By publishing clear, plain-language information about the steps of the cannabis permitting process, local governments would avoid many of these inbound requests for clarification. When applicants start the process, they should be able to see clearly every step on the ladder to success. Many cities have seven or more steps that must be completed in sequence — getting approvals from the Planning, Police, and Fire departments, just to name a few. Visual cues, maps, and other user experience (UX) tools can help applicants understand the road ahead.

Nudge People to Save Time and Money

Adding clarity to the process is a win-win scenario for both government and citizens. Applicants move through the permitting process faster, and public servants collect more accurate forms and reduce the need to hunt down missing information.

Tools that support workflow automation can alert applicants about next steps in the process once they’ve successfully completed a stage. Our new Case Management features allow government agencies to go one step further, letting agency administrators send follow-up forms to applicants with any previously collected information already filled in.

Make Cross-Agency Collaboration Not Suck

Since the laws that help dictate the cannabis permitting process are new in most states where cannabis is legal, these processes are likely to continue evolving. Using flexible tools with powerful APIs can help support collaboration across agencies, and make it easier to onboard new agencies or add additional functionality over time.

Configurable software solutions can help cities set up workflows that allow for many agencies to collaborate and communicate, so each agency can approve the necessary step in the process and also have a holistic view of a person’s full application. APIs can connect disparate systems so they talk to each other. This allows different agencies to work from the same tool, rather than piecemeal information living in many different systems. Powerful APIs also set you up for better functionality in the long run. For instance, connecting tools that enable mapping functionality for proposed business locations.

Personalize the Process

Some people want to know when their application is fully approved. Others want updates along the way. Give people the option to choose their communication method, like text or email, and frequency. Provide more payment options to make it easier for people to pay, like both ACH/eCheck and credit/debit cards, one-time payments or more flexible billing with several recurring installments of a smaller amount.

Options like these let a person customize the experience to what’s most convenient to them, and helps people move through the process faster.

Growing a Legal Cannabis Economy

For a new process like cannabis permitting, the ability to quickly test and iterate on the toolset your use is crucial in creating a solution that will ultimately meet all your needs.

As cities create technology solutions to address cannabis permitting, they can bring these insights to other cities and counties facing similar challenges in enacting new recreational cannabis laws.

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