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Medical Marijuana Companies Use EPC Tags to Keep Things Straight

Denver-based LeafTrack is providing its RFID-based tracking system to help producers meet state requirements, track the condition of each plant, and receive alerts if any plant's health is in decline.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 04, 2011Two Colorado suppliers of medical marijuana are employing an RFID system provided by Denver startup LeafTrack, to provide visibility into the health of plants as they grow, as well as to meet the state's stringent requirements for tracking the drug, from seed to user. The system, which is also being piloted by several other marijuana growers and manufacturers, allows a window into the life and health of each marijuana plant, while also tracking that plant's harvest yield, as well as its transition to a consumable product purchased by a patient, in a variety of forms, such as incorporated into brownies. Data regarding the medical marijuana can be accessed by the business owner via LeafTrack's software, as well as by consumers via LeafTrack's Findmary Web site. Governmental agencies (17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently have medical marijuana programs) could also access information from the LeafTrack software.

LeafTrack was founded in 2010 to provide logistics services to the medical-marijuana industry. The organization would pick up marijuana from growers—who plant, grow and harvest the leaves and flower buds—and deliver the raw material to dispensaries that process it into consumable form, and then transport the finished product to stores that sell products to patients. LeafTrack not only transported the raw materials, but also attached bar-coded labels to containers in which the raw materials were packed, in order to help track them. However, says Reid Hanson, LeafTrack's founder, the company began to see, with the introduction of new state regulations, that the greatest need was in the tracking of the product for businesses and for the state, from its origins as a seed to its sale to a consumer. As a result, the firm exited the logistics business and developed an RFID-based system that medical marijuana suppliers could employ themselves.

A plastic strip with an embedded EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tag is used to track each plant (photo credit: Bob Strle).
Currently, the company is marketing its tracking system to medical marijuana dispensaries and growers nationwide, as well as to businesses that provide other high-value plants that require close tracking during growth, such as saffron.

Medical marijuana is legally produced and sold in a number of states, but is closely regulated by governmental bodies. In July of this year, Colorado's Department of Revenue issued medical marijuana regulations requiring that the product be tracked from seed to sale, and indicated that the state will eventually require the use of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags, according to Julie Postlethwait, the public information officer for the Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. She adds that the state is presently working with Franwell, a provider of track-and-trace technology, to develop an RFID system that may be completed by early next year. At that time, Postlethwait explains, the state will create regulations regarding how the UHF RFID system would need to be implemented and used. It is possible, she notes, that Colorado may recommend specific RFID systems, or sell tags itself. "Until that time," she reports, "the department doesn't recommend substantive purchases of technology [in an attempt to meet new requirements] prior to the rules and regulations being issued."

Growers have traditionally provided information about their plants to Colorado authorities via paperwork, and the state also conducts periodic inspections, at which time an inventory of the product may be taken. After the marijuana was harvested, the raw material was often transported to another party that processed and sold the product. Colorado's new regulations, however, dictate that 70 percent of the product supplier's inventory on hand must be made from marijuana grown by that same company. The two product providers that are presently utilizing the LeafTrack system are altogether tagging approximately 60,000 plants per four-month cycle, and are serving up to 10,000 customers. LeafTrack's customers have asked to remain unnamed.

With the LeafTrack system, when seedlings reach several weeks of age, each plant's description (condition and date of planting) and ID number are entered into the LeafTrack software, so that they can then be tracked throughout their lifetime. LeafTrack designed a plastic strip—similar to the RFID wrist or ankle bands used on infants in some hospital nurseries—with an embedded EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay from SK&T Integration. The front of the band, supplied by Precision Dynamic Corp. (PDC), is printed with the RFID inlay's unique ID number in text and bar-code form, for those without RFID readers. A band is wrapped around each plant's stem, and the tag's RFID and bar-code numbers are scanned and linked together in the system, by means of an Intermec CN3 handheld computer with an IP30 RFID reader and running LeafTrack software, in order to manage the read data and forward that information to the back-end system.

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