A partnership between Microsoft (MSFT) and cannabis-focused software developer Kind Financial was announced on Thursday, making Microsoft the first tech giant to enter this controversial territory and quite possibly, legitimize it.
The point of this unlikely friendship is to leverage the Los Angeles-based start-up's preexisting technology with Microsoft Azure Government, a cloud platform designed to increase communication and efficiency between government agencies. Kind Financial is a supposed leader in the "seed to sale" technology industry. It offers various products (including A.T.M.-like marijuana kiosks) and services to growers, consumers and retailers in the marijuana business.
Microsoft closed at $50.13 per share Friday down less than 1% from its Thursday close of $50.39 per share.
In the short term, Rodney Nelson with Morningstar said he would be surprised if the news changed investors' opinions or ratings of Microsoft, which announced Wednesday that it acquired mobile messenger app Wand following its $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn (LNKD) .
"I think it's a story that makes a lot of headlines, and it's way too early to make any distinction about how that makes out for Microsoft," Nelson said. But long term, he said it was a "burgeoning" story.
Matthew Karnes with Green Wave Advisors said marijuana sales totaled $4.8 billion last year, and are expected to grow to $6.5 billion this year. Depending on California's vote to legalize the recreational use of pot, that number could reach a high of $25 billion by 2020, as existing markets will keep growing and more states may implement programs like California's when the time comes to cast ballots.
California, Nevada, Maine, Arizona and Massachusetts will vote to legalize recreational use this fall. Because these states already have legalized medical marijuana programs implemented, Karnes said the transition to legalize recreational use may be significantly easier, which means these programs may become more accessible for states looking to adopt medical or recreational drug programs.
For Karnes, Microsoft "stepping up and engaging" with a cannabis-related company is "significant."
"To me it signals that there is the potential for more investment from corporate America," Karnes said. "It could signal also a shift in legalization policies. Maybe lawmakers will view this as, if there is investment from corporations, they may see those economic benefits."
But for now, it looks like Microsoft's role in the deal is hands-off and strictly compliance focused -- it won't actually be involved in the kiosks or commerce of the product.
"I would be surprised to hear that from investors they wouldn't trust or invest in Microsoft because of this," Nelson said.