The cannabis business is a new and fragile industry right now, meaning there are a few hoops to jump through if you want to be a part of it. Some of these hoops have presented themselves in the form of tracking systems.
With such a close eye on the cannabis biz, both the state and Humboldt County have a tracking system in place for cannabis. Unfortunately, there are some discrepancies between the two systems which had local growers facing the possibility of having to comply with and pay for two separate and distinct tracking systems.
Luckily for growers in the area, an announcement has been made that may allow them to breathe a bit easier. An announcement was made that the two separate systems should be able to join with one another, at least to a degree. Regulators and farmers seem to be happy with the news that the state and county’s tracking software should remove a hoop or two.
Humbolt County has a track and trace software system that has been in place for about two years. The system is run by a Swiss company called SICPA, the same company that happens to track the state’s cigarette sales. Humbolt was the first government entity in the state to put a tracking system in place for pot back in 2016. The program works by tracking the pot through all the stages is possible can. It starts tracking it when it is being grown by companies and keeps tracking it all the way to the store shelves by using a coding system with coded stamps that can be scanned by customers and regulators.
It is the responsibility of the Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf’s office to oversee the tracking program that the county put in place. Dolf raised the question of whether or not the state’s tracking and tracing program known as METRC that could come into play as soon a July, will be able to meet all of the needs and goals of the county.
He says that it is too soon to guess as to how well it will work out, at least until there is an industry that is using the system and signing up to use it, and his county receives any of the data from the state’s system.
A cannabis farmer of Ladybug Herbal Sanctuary in the outskirts of Ferndale named Nathan Whittington has been a willing and happy participant of the tracking program that is in place ever since the initial launch of the program in 2016. He says that no matter which system, if either, comes out on top, he’s happy that the program has given small farmers a leg up in the industry. He says it’s taught them how to operate, run, and sustain their farms in a regulated market, which he says given small farmers a much better and stronger chance in such a big market.
Whittington says that even if it does nothing else, it does show that they are coming of age as an industry and are able and willing to comply with every level.
The tracking program in Humbolt county serves more than one purpose. First, it ensures that cannabis and cannabis products aren’t being sold from black market to legal market and vice versa. It also has a feature being referred to as “proof-of origin” which serves to verify that the product truly is from Humbolt County, and not simply being advertised as a Humbolt county product.
Executive Director of the Humboldt Growers Alliance Terra Carver says that the tracking program is working to not only promote the business of the county but also to protect it, much like that of Napa Valley or French wines, in what is now a highly competitive market statewide.
Carver goes on to say that this is not only good for a short term but quite possibly a long one as well. In the short term, it can give the consumer of the product verification and validation that they are getting a compliant product. In the long term, it can serve to give value overall to the product by using the stamp to achieve customer awareness.
The stamps will provide a multitude of information about the product whenever it is scanned. The information you should get when you look at the stamp on the final packaging should include things such as what strain it is, where it was grown, what time it was produced and who it was produced by.
Dolf has provided information that says over 47, 000 pounds of cannabis and 178,800 plants from around 330 sites, as of Wednesday, are being tracked by the county.
The state’s system of tracking, called METRC, works on tracking the cannabis a bit differently. First off it doesn’t have the “proof of origin” feature that the county’s system provides. The state uses tags that track the cannabis. Alex Spelman, the SICPA Vice President of Business Affairs, says that the tags are only used to tag the plants and to track batches of the product rather than individual packages that can be found at the dispensaries of the cannabis. He also reported that the stamps that SICPA provides have bank mote security, they banknote security should prevent them from being able to be copied or counterfeited.
According to Dolf, this brings up the important question of what the county will do. Will they be sliding over to the states tracking system of cannabis and if so will they continue to you the SICPA stamps to provide the “proof of origin”?
A big change in the tracking systems this week was announced, and that’s good news for farmers. It’s been announced that the SICPA software can merge with, or integrate into, the state’s METRC software system. Farmers like Whittington see this as a very good thing as if they use their own inventory system to manage their supply that can now plug it into the software system of SICPA, which provides an easier entry of data. Cannabis farmers didn’t have to keep up with records for anything, but now new laws require quite a bit of information from cannabis growers. The law deems that they tell the amount of cannabis they can grow per square foot, their record harvest times, and their yields.
Whittington says that when his annual county inspection rolled around, he was able to easily input and bring up all of the necessary information because he used SICPA. He says that using SICPA will allow him to grow more business savvy with his cannabis farm.
The state isn’t expected to fully launch their system for tracking and tracing cannabis until it starts issuing its first annual licenses to business in the cannabis industry. For the time being cannabis business in California are all operating and running under licenses that are temporary, that is until they have and can gather all of the necessary information to obtain a full license.
With the way things are right now, owners in the cannabis industry will remain operating under two separate systems once they obtain their licenses, but that only stands for specific instances in the production line of the business.
METRC tags will need to be ordered by cannabis farmers for their plants twice. Once when they are immature little plants that have yet to flower, and again when they are more mature and begin to flower. According to Spelman tags must be obtained by the farmers through the METRC system. He also mentioned that the SIPCA software known as CalOrigin could still be used by cannabis farmers once the METRC system tags are in place on the plants and activated.
Some major changes are making their way into the industry including how to transfer products from one cannabis business to another one. Farmers and business cannot use SICPA when they decide that they want to transfer their cannabis products from one business to another on such as a concentrate manufacturer of a retailer. When instances such as these arise the business that wants to move transfer products must log their transfer through the state system. Something that Spelman insists that the SICPA software will be able to record once the transfer is completed.
Spelman says that it is his opinion that the development for cannabis operations in the county to guarantee that the call origin system can both communicate efficiently with the state software but also assist in mitigating the burdens of compliance to operators is a positive thing.
Any changes made to the cannabis tracking program in the county should be made through a public process where the cannabis industry can provide it’s own input, according to Dolf