An Industry With ‘High’ Growth Potential

There are many ways in which RFID hardware and software could effectively help the marijuana industry monitor the production, shipment and sale of pot.
Published: May 1, 2016

I have been asked to help implement a radio frequency identification system at a marijuana growing facility. However, it is clear to me that RFID could also be employed to improve the processes currently being used by the governing body that oversees the drug.

Marijuana is a true cash crop that is vulnerable to a very high rate of theft. To monitor that crop, approved growers must identify each plant by means of a serial number in the form of a bar-coded label or an RFID tag provided by the governing body. So if the industry is already using such technology, where is there room for improvement?

The serial-numbering process used for the bar-coded label is the same one used to encode the RFID tag affixed to the plant. With all of the possibilities that RFID has to offer, using the same process is an injustice to RFID’s potential to dramatically improve the industry’s ability to track a marijuana plant, beginning with its start as a seedling and ending with the harvesting of a mature plant and its distribution to a retail store.

A bar-code label is limited to the amount of data that it can store, and the bar code must be scanned through various stages and be reported to the state-governing department. Missing a scan results in huge fines. This is where RFID offers an advantage over a bar code. With a bar code, marijuana growers rely on their employees to scan every plant’s ID. Even if those workers are diligent, their efforts may be thwarted if a bar code is damaged by scratches or dirt. If RFID tags were employed instead, capturing those IDs successfully would be a much quicker and simpler task. And since the RFID inlay can store more data, it can be utilized to record a lot more information, thereby helping the growers and giving the governing body the ability to have more data than merely keeping a log of which serial numbers were sent to which grower.

There are many varieties of marijuana plants. Similar to the way in which the apparel industry is using passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to track all of the various sizes, colors and styles of clothing items being shipped and sold, the governing body could use RFID to manage the many types of pot. For instance, instead of the current serialization method being used, a grower could associate a plant’s unique ID number with that plant’s particular variety. Using this information and adding the grower’s ID, as well as the date on which a seedling was placed in soil (its born-on date), the government could track the plant with greater detail.

The next step would be for the governing body to adopt a set of standards that could be applied to all states, and that could guarantee each tag’s integrity from a products’ beginning as a seedling to its sale at a retail store. Once a better standard is adopted, authorizing companies to print and encode RFID labels using the new standard will open up the RFID community to experience greater growth.

There is also a huge need for software that can track movement and forward all of the collected information to the governing body. I know I am being vague, but since this is a current ongoing project, I cannot offer exact details of all the areas in which RFID hardware and software could help monitor this industry.

Doug Harvel is an RFID consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in a manufacturing and distribution environment using Manhattan Associates‘ WMS software, and more than 12 years of working with RFID. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this article, please feel free to contact him at