This same question is asked by many consumers across various categories of products we consume everyday. Do I really know the chicken I’m about to buy is raised on a free-range farm? Is the medicine I’m about to take authentic? Is the fish I’m planning to eat for dinner from Boston as advertised? We all want to know the origin of products, their claims, what are the ingredients, was it produced using Current Good Manufacturing Process (cGMP) best practices, as well as adherence to Federal and State regulations. Many brands today have implemented strategies and initiatives to ensure they can answer these questions for their customers with open transparency, traceability of facts and trust through sharing provable authentic data.
The legal Cannabis industry as it begins to mature across the globe is also heading in this direction. The current U.S. Federal, State and even Municipal regulations are strict and complex, adding a level of compliance each company must implement to ensure their products are of high quality and safe to consume. This requires companies to implement a technology ecosystem strategy to capture the required data points to comply with all the regulatory rules as well as run their own operations. I have seen first hand what a licensed New York State processor goes through to integrate these systems with their workflow — implementing Standard Operating Procedures, state-required seed-to-sale systems and their underpinning Enterprise Resource Platforms (ERP) and Quality Management Systems (QMS). It was extremely impressive to witness this level of sophistication of technology, dedication to product quality, and consumer safety. It made me personally feel comfortable because my wife is also a patient of the NYS Medical Marijuana program and uses tinctures as part of her pain management program for her neck.
The upfront capital investment required by these companies to build out facilities with the ecosystem of technology and all the other functional areas is extremely costly. You add on to the cost the Federal, State and excise taxes, and it’s not easy to break even and eventually become profitable. Therefore, all companies in this space must find ways to differentiate their brands and tell a compelling story to their stakeholders — from investors, to businesses and partners to consumers — that their cannabis product being produced is authentic, safe and meets the claims being made by the brand.
What’s the best way to accomplish this? The technology infrastructure required to truly capture the supply chain and compliance data at point of activity is critical. The systems being used must complement one another and be able to help tell the authenticity story with data and science as the factual backstop. From the grower to the consumer, authenticity is becoming a must. Tools like molecular technology tagging on plants, oils and isolates as well as packaging and labels are a unique way for the industry to determine where the plants were grown and originated to where they were shipped. This method can be captured and read by a mobile PCR device connected to a mobile phone through bluetooth and works with ERP and QMS platforms, complimenting every phase of the seed to sale supply chain.
As cannabis moves through the supply chain, molecular technology platforms use APIs so data can be easily exchanged between systems and work with FinTech and Blockchain platforms as these become more prevalent in the future.
Intellectual Property (IP) protection and true brand enforcement for special formulations, custom strains, or delivery models is also a major benefit of tracking and tracing technologies — especially when legal issues arise. Regulatory compliance in the United States is often required by those in the industry to prove THC products have been produced, sold and consumed within the state they are sold. When molecular tagging is being used within a global supply chain, each entity can be tested for the unique tag for export and import validation as well as incoming and outgoing sourcing traceability, and forensic evidence that it’s your product or not.
Everyone at every step of the supply chain wants to know if their cannabis is the real deal. Only when we work together to integrate systems, implement best practices, technology and share data as an industry can we provide cannabis consumers with knowledge about products through true transparency, that is when we can truly answer the “real deal” question.
The global market for both medical and recreational cannabis will continue to grow and become legal across the globe. Just like other complex supply chains that supply us with everyday products, we want to know where these products are coming from and the ingredients that go into them. Cannabis is no different and it will require a technology ecosystem and infrastructure to provide visibility to all within the supply chain and the end consumers. Trust, transparency and traceability will be key benefits provided by such an ecosystem and allow for fair and safe commerce across international borders.