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Colorado Readies System for Monitoring Marijuana

The state requires that growers, processors and retailers of medical or recreational marijuana use EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags to authenticate and identify each plant or product.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 16, 2013

Hundreds of recreational marijuana shops are slated to open in Colorado on Jan. 1. Once that happens, every package of buds or processed products, such as marijuana-laced brownies, will have an RFID tag attached to it, intended to help the state regulate product and ensure that it comes from authorized sources.

In July 2011, Colorado's Department of Revenue issued medical marijuana regulations requiring that the pot plants' and products' status and whereabouts be recorded throughout the supply chain. The agency also indicated that the state will eventually require the use of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to authenticate and identify each product or plant (see Medical Marijuana Companies Use EPC Tags to Keep Things Straight). The rules resulted in the creation of what the state calls Marijuana Inventory Tracking Solutions (MITS)—a system that the Department of Revenue's Marijuana Enforcement Division intends to use to track the pot from the greenhouse in which it is grown to the store where the drug is sold. MITS consists of software developed by Florida technology company Franwell.

The MITS software, residing on Colorado's database, is designed to track each plant or package—beginning with the moment a marijuana cutting is first planted. To monitor what each cannabis plant or product consists of, as well as where it originated, the state is employing EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags supplied by Franwell. Marijuana growers must purchase these tags—available in various forms, including as a hangtag or an adhesive label—and attach them to the plants themselves, or to packages of processed marijuana.

The MITS solution, which will cost Colorado approximately $1.6 million for software and readers, is designed to help the state maintain control over an industry that has been historically clandestine and illegal, explains Julie Postlethwait, the Marijuana Enforcement Division's the public information officer. Concerns on the state level focus on ensuring that a pot plant, once it begins growing, does not end up anywhere other than at a state-authorized retailer. In addition, the agency wants to know that what is being sold in the stores comes from an authorized grower. That provides accountability, according to Ron Kammerzell, Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division senior director, as quoted in an interview with KDVR Fox News.

The Fox-affiliated television station also interviewed Mike Elliott, the executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association founded in 2010 to help protect and promote Colorado's medical marijuana regulatory framework, and to safeguard the rights of medical marijuana patients. "It should be very exciting for consumers to know the product is going to be safer than it's ever been before," Elliott told the KDVR reporter.

The MITS system was first developed in 2010 by what was then known as the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, to better manage the growing, processing and sale of medical marijuana. A shortfall in state funding, however, kept the system from being adopted. The solution became part of a much larger project last year, when Colorado voters passed a referendum in November 2012 making recreational marijuana legal within the state. State-regulated stores will begin selling pot throughout the state as of January 2014.

Colorado requires that growers of marijuana, whether for recreational or medical purposes, purchase RFID tags and log into the MITS system via the Internet in order to update a pot product's status. Marijuana can be bought and sold in amounts of no more than one pound. Currently, Elliott told RFID Journal, there are about 500 marijuana retailers registered in the state, as well as 126 "infused product" manufacturers (which also act as distributors) and 700 growers. To date, predictions are that far fewer than 500 retailers will be ready to open their doors by Jan. 1, as the entire industry struggles to get the necessary inventory-tracking system and labeling infrastructure in place. (Each label must be printed with a product's details, including where and when it originated, in addition to any pertinent processing information.)

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