You probably don’t realize it, but every time you hand your cash to a budtender and buy a weed product you have completed the last step in a long chain of data tracked by the state. From seed to pre-rolled joint, the state is always watching the legal pot in our state.
Or at least they are trying to. MJ Freeway, the private company that won a contract with the state a year ago to run this data system, has been riddled with problems, including security breaches, mistaken data, and even glitches that at one point stopped nearly every store in the state from receiving new products.
The state recently had the opportunity to cancel their contract with this troubled vendor but the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), which regulates pot in the Evergreen State, has decided to maintain their contract with MJ Freeway. Brian Smith, a spokesperson for the LCB, told me that the board is confident the company can clean up its mess.
“It’s functioning, it’s just not fully functional yet,” Smith said. “We work through the known issues and we will have planned rollouts that will have new and updated systems. We have an active partnership with MJ Freeway, we’re working through the issues.”
MJ Freeway has struggled with their data system since they first contracted with the state in July of last year. The state originally expected the new system to go live at the end of October, but the company failed to meet that deadline so the state announced at the last minute that the transition would be delayed till Jan. 1 of this year.
When the new system finally went live, after a further delay till February, it was barely operational. Glitches in the system stopped farmers and processors from selling products to retailers, prompting fears of product shortages and costing farmers tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales.
The system is still struggling with bugs five months later, according to Smith. He said there are still problems with lab reporting figures and other system issues.
Other problems are still plaguing the system, including security attacks (the latest was announced by the LCB in June), discrepancies between the sales data entered into the system and what the system actually reflects, and an inability to release the entire database publicly, which the state's previous vendor was able to do.
Smith said the state hired a consultant, Gartner Consulting, to analyze the system's problems.
“As far as what you hear in the rumor mill, that’s part of what the Gartner study is trying to get down to the bottom of,” Smith said.
That makes sense—hire an outside professional to analyze the problems so you can decide if you want to continue with this troubled contractor. Unfortunately, the outside consultant’s report, which was originally scheduled to be finished in June, according to Smith, has now been delayed till August.
So, the LCB renewed their contract with the troubled MJ Freeway company without the help of the analysis they paid for. Smith couldn’t tell me how much the Gartner study is costing the government.
MJ Freeway has run into trouble across the country. In January of last year, the company’s systems were hacked and sales at 1,000 dispensaries in 23 states were suspended, according to Marijuana Business Daily. The state of Nevada canceled their contract with MJ Freeway after the company’s source code was stolen and posted on Reddit, according to Forbes.
Who did Nevada turn to when they kicked out MJ Freeway? A company called Franwell, which, ironically, was the LCB’s first choice to run the system in Washington. Franwell backed out of their contract with the state and the LCB turned to the runner-up, MJ Freeway.
The state has another opportunity to cancel their contract with MJ Freeway in January of next year. We’ll see if the system gets better by then.