How Colorado will tag its marijuana

By Karen Berman on

The ghosts of Woodstock must be watching in disbelief at the dawning of the age of legalized, recreational marijuana in Colorado — and they’re probably wondering about the state’s very un-peace-and-love mandate that every baggie of weed be tracked with an RFID tag.

Department of Revenue Marijuana Enforcement Division insignia

The insignia of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division

Medical marijuana was already legal in Colorado when a referendum on legalizing recreational use of the drug was passed by the state’s voters in 2012. Indeed, the Colorado Department of Revenue had already mandated inventory tracking of medical marijuana products to ensure their safety and purity, and to strictly limit their production and sale to state-licensed businesses. To enforce the new rules, it had set up a Marijuana Enforcement Division and commissioned its own Marijuana Inventory Tracking Solutions (MITS) system, a digital inventory tracking program designed by Lakeland, Florida-based Franwell.

Budgetary issues forced the state to postpone implementation of MITS, but that delay left them with a fully developed plan for a tracking system when recreational use was approved.

Now, with some 700 registered growers, 500 retailers and over 100 manufacturers and distributors of “infused product” (marijuana tea and brownies, for example) all waiting for the new law to take effect on January 1, the state will begin enforcing MITS. All marijuana businesses in Colorado — whether aimed at medical or recreational use — will have to comply.

The industry will have to identify every plant, seedling, packet of buds, or marijuana-infused product with a passive UHF RFID label or hang tag (affixed to the plant with a security strap). The system, which has cost the state $1.2 million thus far for software and RFID readers, will track marijuana products from cultivation through harvest, processing and transport to point of sale. All the tags are to be linked via the Internet to the state’s MITS database and inspectors and businesses will be required to log into the database at each step to create a discreet digital history for every plant or product. In the future, businesses may affix tags to growing and processing rooms as well, to track the movement of the product. What MITS won’t do is track what happens to the marijuana once consumers buy it.

An FAQ sheet from the Marijuana Enforcement Division notes that RFID technology was chosen because it is well suited to “the fragile nature of the marijuana plant and [could] keep our regulators interaction with it to a minimum. RFID technology offered us the ability to track a large number of items—regardless of size—conduct  inventory assessment with minimal resources, limit officer-to-plant interaction and provide real-time information.”

4/20 demonstration in Colorado

A pro-marijuana rights demonstration in Colorado. From cannabisdestiny.

With the MITS system, each plant and product is tagged with a unique 24-digit code. The tags are provided by Franwell, because the state judged that a single source of high-quality tags would better ensure the integrity of the system, according to its FAQ sheet. The tags are purchased by the marijuana business owners and cost 45 cents each for the secure hangtags and 25 for the package labels.

The state has been training folks involved in marijuana businesses to use MITS, but Marijuana Business Daily (yes, there is such a thing) reports that a number of businesses are encountering hiccups in the system, which they say is not compatible with the software already in use and requires additional staffing to do the tagging. Some have said they won’t be ready for business when the law takes effect on January 1. The state, according to the article, has made some tweaks in the system and Franwell has promised that MITS will be compatible with other inventory management programs soon.

When will that be? It’s always hard to say when a state’s rollout of a new bureaucratic machinery will get its groove on. Can the ghosts of Woodstock offer us a clue? (Maybe when the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars?) Time will tell.

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