The Washington state cannabis traceability system is fucking up once again.
As my colleague Lester Black wrote last year, the traceability system—which tracks cannabis plants from seed to sale—has been plagued with glitches almost since the beginning. In fall of 2017, for instance, MJ Freeway, the vendor chosen by the state's Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to provide traceability software to cannabis producers after the previous company declined to renew its contract with the state, failed to deliver the product on time. Left without tracking software, some pot vendors were forced to track their sales by hand.
This week, the software failed again, and left pot vendors unable to release their product to retailers. A system-wide outage was planned Sunday and Monday of this week for maintenance, but an error in the software lead to a breakdown and the system was down until Wednesday morning. This left processors unable to complete wholesale transactions, and there were fears among some in the industry that the system was going to lose all lab testing data.
According to a spokesperson from the LCB, the system is now back up and running and all lab results are intact, but the industry is still struggling to catch up. Uncle Ike's, for instance, one of the largest pot retailers in the region, said that the company was still having trouble getting pot products from vendors as of late Wednesday morning.
Things have gotten so bad with the system that some in the industry are threatening a class action lawsuit against the state, according to Gregory Foster, an author at Cannabis Observer and a member of the LCB's Traceability Advisory Committee.
As for solving this problem, the simplest approach would be to find a different vendor, Foster told me. "Unfortunately, the faillings of MJ Freeway are not unique, although I think it's safe to say they are the worst of the possible choices, which has been proved over and over again."
Besides, even if finding a new vendor is the simplest approach, it's still not exactly simple, and it could take years to find and choose a new software provider. Foster says a better approach would be to rethink the traceablilty system all together. "Regulators at the agencies here and in other states have always pointed to the Cole Memorandum's nonbinding recommendations that states should work to minimize diversion out of their regulated marketplaces," he said, referring to the 2013 Department of Justice memo directing US attorneys not to pursue weed cases in states where recreational weed has been legalized. That memo was later revoked by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and while Sessions's intention was certainly not to make life easier for the industry, in the absence of the Cole Memo, Foster says there may be some room for increasing flexibility in traceability requirements.
"We aren't in the same place we were when the Cole Memorandum came down," he said. "Of course, we are still dealing with a federally controlled substance and I think it's naive to think we're not going to have some kind of traceability system or requirements for transparency in the supply chain. However, I don't think it needs to be such a controlling approach. We need to move towards more of a standards-based approach and get the state out of the business of trying to operate the marketplace," Foster continued, because the system as is—it's just not working out.