The experience of walking into a dispensary in Colorado varies by location. Some marijuana shops occupy drab rooms next to acupuncture clinics in long-forgotten office buildings while others use historic buildings as storefronts and cover interior walls with prints from local artists. What all dispensaries have in common, at least what they’re supposed to have in common, is that they have to play by the rules of bureaucracy.
Colorado has a lot of marijuana red tape, and it would probably be impossible to cut through it without the seed-to-sale tracking system known as METRC. This system is used by dispensaries to comply with state regulations. METRC stands for Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance; a string of words relating to what the system does, rather than a phrase explaining it.
METRC is the official system used by Colorado, helping to create a closed loop of regulations based on the tracking of each plant from its earliest stages in the grow facility to the final product on the shelves and in the jars of Colorado dispensaries.
The METRC system was dreamnt up by the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, the group charged with overseeing the business and regulation of legal medical and retail marijuana in Colorado. The system was designed by Franwell, a software development group in Florida that specializes in creating vertical software applications for track-and-trace operations.
When it comes to tracking the final sale of medical marijuana products, METRC captures patient information; however, the only information it stores is the medical marijuana registry number of the patient—the “red card” license number. (In Colorado, the colloquial term for medical marijuana license is red card.)
As Greg Foretemps, grow manager for the Colorado Harvest Company, told The Week, marijuana businesses are like Disney World: “For every person you bump into at the front of the store, there are four more making the magic in the back.” A lot of marijuana has been sold legally in Colorado. The amount is measured in metric tons, which means there are a lot of plants. So what does it mean that each marijuana plant is tracked from seed to sale?
For starters, it means that each plant gets its own specific bar code tag, as if it were a California condor. This is the same for small and large grow operations. Fortunately, when it comes time to scan those bar codes, the tags, called RFID tags for Radio Frequency Identification, also emit an ultra-high frequency radio signal, and a special device can read them within 10 to 15 feet. This means that the scanning can be performed without touching the plants.
According to the METRC website, the RFID tags allow scanners to work 90 percent faster than if they had to scan individual bar codes. Governmental red tape costs all businesses money, especially the heavily-regulated marijuana industry. Fortunately, technology allows the costs of time and money to be minimized through METRC.
The marijuana plants get scanned for the METRC system when they are first planted, and again when they are harvested. When the plants are packaged, they get shipped with a bar code label corresponding to the original plant’s RFID tag. Then at the dispensary, employees have the option to label the package with the bar code corresponding to the RFID tag.
In Colorado, the MED requires the METRC system to apply to all marijuana products. Even infused drinks, brownies and gummy bears at dispensaries all started as marijuana plants once upon a time. Not that anyone is really interested, aside from regulators and investigators, but for businesses that comply with Colorado regulations, the entire history of every gram of marijuana sold can be told back to the day it was planted in the soil, or glass beads, or however they choose to do it these days.