Informing About Local Drug and Health Laws with Mobile Technology

20161208_100228Team Verdigris: Emilie Plesset, Dylan Jones, Katelyn Hom, Carrie Wiles

Requested Amount: $100,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 6 months

Describe your Project:

Our project involves the creation of a mobile phone application that uses geolocation technology to provide information about local drug and health laws. Drug and health laws tend to vary in every municipality and can sometimes be unclear or confusing. For example, the University of Michigan enforces state drug laws on its campus while the rest of Ann Arbor follows its own city laws. This is exemplified by legal penalties for smoking marijuana. A person caught smoking the drug in the city of Ann Arbor will be fined only $25 for a first time offense, whereas someone caught smoking on the University campus could be held in jail for no more than 90 days and fined up to $100. The app’s use of geolocation technology would use push notifications to clarify where varying laws like these are in place. In addition to using geolocation for push notifications, the app would use this technology to update in-app tabs explaining local alcohol laws, drug laws (including laws pertaining to marijuana, tobacco products, local Rx regulations, etc.), medical amnesty laws, hospital locations, and local cab companies. The app would also include a tab providing basic first aid instruction, though this information wouldn’t change based on location. Furthermore the app would clearly state the potential consequences and risks associated with one’s health from drug and/or alcohol use. The goal of this app would not be to promote the use of drugs and alcohol, but to provide a tool for users to do so safely. The lack of a proper, unbiased source of information in many young adults’ lives is an issue that has resulted in many unintended consequences which our this app would hope to prevent. This app not only helps its users better understand their communities and become more informed about local laws, but it also provides potentially live saving information.

What unmet need does your product meet? 200 words

In addition to ensuring that app users always have emergency information on hand, the app clarifies local laws that can sometimes be confusing. Since federal, state, and local governments make their own laws, drug and health laws and regulation can vary from place to place and are sometimes contradictory. This is exemplified by marijuana legalization, which is a growing trend in many states. Federal law says the drug is illegal, but in some states the drug is legal recreationally and in other states it is only legalized for medical purposes. This app can be especially useful on a college campus. Since many drug and health laws are enacted on a local level, out of state or out of town students coming to campus might not be familiar with local laws and how they are affected by them. By knowing the laws, people will be better at acting within them. This app would also be an invaluable tool in health education classes as it would give teachers a resource with which to educate their students on a platform that many teenage and young adult students will be able to connect with. (190 words)

Interview four potential users of your product about this unmet need. Do not tell them about your idea. Just explore their need. What did you learn? Include names and contact info for interviewees and a few words describing each — age, gender, occupation, town where of residence. Go for variety. 200 words

Nicole Bowers is a 23 year old female that lives in Pinckney, Michigan. She recently graduated from Northern Michigan University where she was a residential advisor. When asked about any drug amnesty laws on campus, Bowers said that amnesty laws were, “well known student to student but faculty does not emphasize this out loud.” “Younger students would ask me about drinking and what the rules are. Mainly concerned about campus rules versus state rules.” As a residential advisor Bowers said, “I was always concerned that someone would misunderstand the rules and be scared to come home to the dorms and be in an unsafe situation.” Contact:(734)680-5473

Alex Balte, a 19 year old Sophomore at the University of Michigan talked about his experiences with drugs and alcohol upon entering college. Balte said, “My younger friends, especially freshman have had close calls with over dosages that weren’t handled correctly.” He also talked about how he has had to do extensive research on his own to look up laws related to fake ids and cigarettes. He said that especially while traveling, “I have had to look up cigarette laws. It is very easy to get fined, especially in Europe and around restaurants.” Contact:(248)795-3455

Travis Terns, 27 year old server from Chelsea, Michigan. He often is worried about marijuana laws while traveling. Terns said, “I travel a lot and I know there are dry counties, I just don’t know which ones.” Contact:(734)474-0964

Marissa Debebedet, 21 year old bartender from Canton, Michigan. She said she has a medical marijuana card and keeps up with laws. Contact:(734)660-3775

How big is the potential market for your idea? Mention sources for any statistics you use. 100 words

This app will be a popular resource among both college and high school students who are beginning to come into contact with alcohol and recreational drugs. These students will need an accessible resource to turn to with their questions, and, due to the app’s educational and cautionary tone, parents will likely encourage its use.  In Michigan alone there are roughly 1 million students combined in secondary and postsecondary schools, a figure that grows as students progress every year. Additionally, locals and tourists will use this app in the 20 states that have recently proposed changing marijuana legislation. (97 words)

How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing? Name your closest competitors – 200 words

Our idea is innovative in many ways. Our app will be the first available app on the market that will provide information on alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, transportation, and medical care in one convenient package. There are many apps, such as Drugs Book, that provide information on illegal and prescription drugs but it neglects to provide any information on safe usage or dangers associated with usage of most drugs. Furthermore, apps like Drugs Book aren’t easy to read as they contain more technical information on the drugs and their properties than they do information that is useful to the average person. Our app plans to make information easily accessible so that, even when impaired, the user is able to get the information necessary to make informed decisions. (128)

How will your idea be financially sustainable? 150 words

It’s preferable that the app be free to download so the information it provides is accessible to everyone. The phone application will be financially sustainable through the use of in-app advertising. When a user opens the application they will see an advertisement that can be closed out of after three seconds. Collaborating with or receiving sponsorships from health organizations could also help offset some financial costs. Cab companies could also pay to be included in the app and for additional in-app advertising. The app could also potentially partner with a company like Uber and collect funds if someone orders an Uber through the app. Additionally, this app would benefit immensely from an advertisement campaign aimed at college and high school aged students which would likely increase site traffic for our app thereby generating increased revenue. (135)

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?  100 words

As students who came to Ann Arbor for college, we have seen how the varying laws between campus and the rest of the city could be more easily navigated with an app like the one we are proposing.


7 Responses to “Informing About Local Drug and Health Laws with Mobile Technology”

  1. I think your idea is really intriguing. More information about local laws and about first aid, hospitals, and emergency services can never be a bad thing. One thing you may need to be careful of is really targeting your marketing to make it very clear that your not promoting drug or alcohol use, but instead focusing on safety.
    Just out of curiosity, do you have any statistics about how many colleges and college towns are like U of M and Ann Arbor, where the school and the city enforce different drug laws? If Ann Arbor is unique, what would your plan be for keeping your app relevant, what type of hard to find information would you still be providing?
    Overall, great idea!

  2. This is such a great idea! I for one have never been 100% clear on all the rules for varying areas of Ann Arbor, and I think at least for the immediate area this could be helpful. My question is the same as Grace’s—what is the likelihood of this product being widely applicable? That’s part of its sustainability question, as well—if there’s not a TON of demand for this app, it might be hard to get it off the ground. You have to get enough people using it to incentivize enough business to pay for advertising on the platform, too.

    Similarly, I don’t think a lot of people would have this question enough to have an entire app dedicated to it. Is there a way it can be a service integrated onto other platforms or services?

    • That’s a really good point about there not being a large enough demand. Incorporating our idea into a university owned app is something we may consider doing now as that would provide incentive for people to download the app for more reasons that just our idea. That would also eliminate the need for us to attract business to advertise as the university would already have those contacts.

  3. I like how targeted and focused your idea is. Local laws are often very confusing and often differ and contradict despite close proximity. Regulations and available resources are often lost or confused from place to place and should be more accessible to whom it affects. I agree with Grace, I think the distinction should be very clear that this technology is serving as a safe resource for people and not a way to endorse or encourage drug use. As opposed to a quick resource, this technology is unique and convenient because it is individualized to current location. It would be interesting to see if this technology could be used in collaboration with other platforms to further disperse other localized health and safety information, news, or policies. For example, this technology could also update users on nearby late-night assistance could be found to further promote healthy and safe choices and options.

  4. I really do like the main idea of this app, and I think many people do have a need for this, however it is also not a constant need that would be required everyday, so I have concerns about whether this would be an app, much like Katie has said before me. If this was perhaps more focused on travellers, and where they are going, especially through state boundaries and countries this would be a very useful tool.

    Also like others have said, you would have to be very careful on phrasing and information to make sure that this app isn’t coming across as being supportive of illegal activities. I think there are many ways to ensure this, but it will have to be something that is constantly in the forefront of your mind to ensure sentences can’t be misinterpreted.

    Overall though, this is definitely an idea that is needed in the modern market, and I can’t wait to hear more about it.

  5. I think this idea is great. It definitely deals with information that isn’t common knowledge and should be. Somethings to consider- as Megan said, this app doesn’t feel like something that would be consistently used. I think the push notifications would be helpful, but a problem we came across when interviewing others for our app was that the app felt more like a database. What ways might you keep users on the app? Are there ways to engage them locally, since it’s based on location? Perhaps there can also be updates on when certain subjects/laws are in the news?
    Additionally, I would love to know more about the format of the app. You mentioned that it clarifies laws, which sounds super helpful, considering how hard it can be to sort through government written information. I would love to know more about what that clarity might look like. “Friendly” apps are a big deal nowadays- the more colorful and fun the better. I would just be weary of not letting this app be so text heavy that it wouldn’t appeal to your target market of secondary and postsecondary schools.

  6. Interesting idea! I see the need, and I like the way you make geolocation an integral part of your product. I think earlier comments have offered you some great suggestions. In addition, here are a few more questions to consider:

    1. How will you ensure that the information on your app is up to date and accurate at the level of local detail that you’re promising? Here’s a potential source of some of the information you might need about alcohol laws; it’s a collection of maps from the federal Alcohol Policy Information System: On a quick search, I did not immediately find a similar source focused on local marijuana ordinances.

    2. Did you realize that there are already many apps related on marijuana? Acknowledging that I’m not in your target market, I just googled cannabis apps and marijuana apps. Here’s one review article: It sounds like perhaps your focus on the legal consequences is not so common. It also sounds like some of these apps may already have a large audience. What can you learn about their audiences? Can you market to their audiences?

    3. Apparently there has recently been some controversy over how phone companies will deal with drug-related apps: This is something that may be worth exploring and possibly acknowledging in your live pitch. I wonder if anyone from Apple’s media relations office would talk to you about your idea and give you a little feedback. Apple has a very famous research lab. Has anyone at Apple looked at an idea similar to yours?

    Overall, great work on this. I like the way you’re thinking.

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