Metrc Tracks and Traces from Seed to Sale

Metrc is the platform and means for regulatory oversight for the commercial cultivation and sale of legal cannabis in California. It is designed to provide consumer assurance that a product is authentic, safe and legal.

Metrc Protects Consumers

California wants its cannabis customers to shop with confidence at licensed dispensaries, just as they would at liquor stores, drug stores, and tobacco shops. Metrc track-and-trace reporting protects consumers by ensuring that all products sold to consumers are safe, tested, authentic and compliant.

This oversight also guards against counterfeiting and black-market dealing while enabling the tracing of any product back to its originating retail shop, testing facility, distributor, packaging facility and grower.

California’s Seed-to-Sale “Metrc System”

The name Metrc might not strike a chord for most 420 devotees, but each day California cannabis growers, packagers, distributors, extractors, infusers, and retailers rely on Franwell, Inc.’s Metrc cloud-based platform as the cannabis industry’s mandated “track-and-trace” electronic regulatory system.

California statute obligates cannabis industry professionals to record everything that happens to a cannabis plant or product in their possession at a given time, from the moment a seed sprouts as an immature plant until the moment it or its derivative products are purchased by a consumer.

Regulatory “seed-to-sale” tracking is designed to protect the consumer, the legal cannabis industry, and the state against fraud, corruption, theft, and loss, by providing precision, real-time inventory accounting, regular reporting, and easy on-the-spot inspections. 

The Metrc Revolution: A Short History

The company Franwell, Inc. was first hired by the State of Colorado in 2011 to develop a statewide medical cannabis tracking system and in 2013 its Metrc cloud-based platform became the state’s official track-and-trace system for all medical and adult recreational marijuana cultivation, processing, distribution, and sales. Colorado renewed their contract with Franwell, Inc. in 2018 for another 3-year term.

The State of California contracted with Franwell in 2017 to make Metrc its official track-and-trace system. The 2 year deal with Franwell in 2017 for $60 million and 5 optional annual renewals, is the largest seed-to-sale tracking contract ever. Since December 2013, the Metrc platform has “registered over 20,000 users and tracked well over 5,000,000 plants and 3,800,000 packages.”

Metrc & California Canna-Business Licensing

The CCIT-Metrc system (California Cannabis Track & Trace – Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance) is linked to California’s annual cannabis licensing process and becomes available to cannabis business licensees once an annual commercial cannabis license application is under consideration by the state.

Use of Metrc is required by California law and includes a training prerequisite (CCTT Account Manager New Business System Training course) that must be completed before a Metrc account manager receives login credentials. Once an annual business license is approved and Metrc training is completed, the company’s Metrc account manager will receive by e-mail system log-on credentials enabling him to begin ordering plant and/or package tags.

Metrc’s RFID Tagging & Tracking System

Metrc plant-tracking tag
Metrc plant-tracking RFID tag (photo: Metrc)

Metrc uses physical tags featuring unique alphanumeric identifiers (UIDs) for tracking. The RFID tags are much more efficient than bar code labels in many ways and are especially helpful for tracking cannabis plants in their various stages of growth.

Upon receipt of an account manager’s order, Metrc assigns UIDs to tags which are encrypted with “radio-frequency identification” (RFID) and shipped to the requesting business via UPS. The account manager must confirm receipt of the tags by clicking the “received” button in the system before Metrc activates the tags for use.

There is no cost to a business for the tags because they are included in the annual license fee. Once an immature plant lot, vegetative or flowering plant, sample or product, is tagged, it can be transported, tracked and traced using Metrc.

Metrc’s RFID Technology

Metrc package tag
Metrc package-tracking RFID tag (photo: Metrc)

The tags’ RFID component can be read by a scanner “without requiring line-of-sight, without a particular orientation or from short read distances.” A Metrc user can read tags from 10 – 15 feet away without having to reach into a plant to find a barcode, disturbing and potentially damaging the plant.

RFID tags can be read 90% faster than bar codes and scanners can identify individual tags within a larger group. It is also much easier to correct an RFID scan error than a bar code mistake, which usually requires a restart.

RFID tags save time and labor, especially for growers, and reduce the risks to plants by minimizing inventory duration. They also facilitate inspections by state regulators, saving the government time and money as it enforces cannabis compliance.

Data is downloaded via wi-fi / cellular service by state inspectors to a mobile RFID device (photo: Metrc)

Metrc Tags & Cannabis Chain of Custody

ags identify each licensee in possession of cannabis at a given stage at a particular time in its journey through the legal supply chain. Tags are required for each immature lot, flowering plant, and distinct cannabis product to be transported from one stage in the cultivation process to another and from one licensee to another in the legal cannabis supply chain.

Metrc’s tags establish a plant’s “chain of custody” from seed-to-sale, marking its evolution from immature cutting, seedling or clone (all three are tagged in lots) to vegging plant, when it is re-tagged as an individual item, to flowering plant, until it is harvested, dried, cured, and trimmed.

Tags are then assigned to packages either for direct sale or for distribution to other businesses for processing, testing, and retail distribution.

Setting Up Shop for Metrc

Metrc Training Video: How to Place a Tag Order

Before tagging and tracking begin the Metrc account manager must set up the system so that it conforms to the company’s business model and workflow.

For example, a grower must create and input an organizational profile identifying the discrete rooms and buildings on the farm where different phases in the cultivation process occur. A dispensary manager will need to enter facility and location information and enter product names and sort them in concert with the state’s pre-determined product categories.

Both cultivation and retail account managers will also need to enter into Metrc strain names for the varieties grown or sold and integrate the platform with any other hardware or third-party software such as a scale, scanner or point-of-sale system (POS).

Metrc’s Third-Party Platform Integration

Metrc is cloud-based, requires no user-end software installation and is designed to work with third-party platforms performing inventory, accounting, Human Resources, and other functions. The system “offers access to third-party business applications via a standard Application Programing Interface (API) or file upload.”

Metrc has strict protocols established to vet third-party vendors and applications because the apps’ designers have no legal obligation to protect consumers. Vendors must complete Metrc training, pass a written test and then demonstrate for Metrc what they plan to do on the platform.

Once complete, a vendor will be considered “validated” (not “certified”) by Metrc and will receive an API key. A second key will be sent to a cannabis company’s Metrc manager and both keys will be required for integration of that third-party platform into Metrc. Metrc has already validated many acceptable third-party APIs for use in California.

Employee Participation in Track-and-Trace

Metrc Training Video: How to Add an Employee?

All cannabis businesses are expected to input into the system database basic information about their employees because the state needs to identify all who have access to plants, packages, and products. Specific employees may be granted specific permissions to input and change information in the system.

For example, a seedlings and clones manager might be permitted online access to pre-vegetation information only, while a packager is limited to on-line packaging information.

System access can be limited to specific facilities, and users may see designated home screens when they log on, depending on their permissions. Most employees won’t have any permissions, although they remain listed in the database.

Metrc Adapted to Canna-Business Models

Metrc is set up a little differently for dispensaries than it is for cultivators and others involved in cannabis commerce.

A dispensary’s product entries must conform to the state’s list of pre-set cannabis product categories such as capsules, concentrates, edibles, extracts, flower, kief, liquid, pre-roll, topical, vape oil, and more. A dispensary’s Metrc manager must also indicate the name of the product, unit of measure, strain name (if applicable), and which facility will stock the item (if more than 1 facility).

Cultivators, however, have a single product – plants – that break down into just a few pre-set categories.

Labs and distributors are also assigned specific roles in the regulatory dynamic. Products undergoing testing are placed “on hold” in the system and only laboratories are authorized to record test data in the system, which protects the integrity of test results. Only distributors are empowered to transport packages and samples and must log all transport departure and arrival times.

California Cannabis Categories
Cannabis categories created by the state of California (photo: Metrc)

Metrc Guards Against Fraud & Criminality

Franwell, Inc. takes seriously its role in cannabis compliance monitoring and identifies different areas in which their platform assists state agencies and legal businesses in maintaining a safe and profitable cannabis industry.

Franwell is quick to acknowledge that its RFID tracking system will not eliminate all supply chain criminality, an unreal expectation of any system. But it is equally quick to assert the tags are “valuable auditing tools for assisting state and local compliance and enforcement staff.” Franwell drills down and gets specific in describing how their platform helps businesses, government and law enforcement:

A multifaceted approach of regular monitoring—including reviews of licensee-reported data and onsite inspections—and referrals to law enforcement are expected to limit illegal movement significantly. The CCTT-Metrc system also will be used to identify anomalies indicative of potentially fraudulent activity. The state’s licensing authorities, sister state agencies, and local agencies will work collaboratively to develop analytical tools and inspection protocols to identify and investigate potentially fraudulent activity during all phases of the commercial distribution-chain activities, and they will take appropriate action as needed.

FAQ: California Track & Trace System (Franwell, Inc./Metrc California)

Metrc is a Regulatory System Only

Metrc performs many functions to maintain the regulatory integrity of California’s legal cannabis industry, but Franwell, Inc. wants its customers to understand unequivocally that Metrc is not a point-of-sale system, is not an inventory system, nor an accounting system, nor a payroll system. It is a regulatory system. Period.

Although information relevant to different aspects of commerce may be extracted from Metrc, it isn’t advised that businesses rely on the system as their main source of operational data.

Instead, as previously mentioned, the platfrom makes it possible for third-party vendors like Cova to provide hardware and software that performs these other functions while integrating into the Metrc system. Cova’s POS system can also integrate with third-party applications, giving cannabis businesses the ability to be fully electronically integrated and fully compliant.

Metrc Reporting Requirements

Each Metrc account manager must “submit daily reports with specified data from every commercial cannabis activity—including every sale, receipt, return, and disposal of cannabis products—by 11:59 p.m. of the day on which it occurred.” This may be the most important daily dispensary task next to counting out the register and locking up the shop.

The platform is capable of producing various PDF-exportable reports that become useful to owners and managers when planning and making business projections. The reports can recount the life of a plant, how long it took to vegetate and flower, whether some portion of a crop proved particularly susceptible to a pest or disease, or how long it took to distribute a particular crop. They can also reflect the pace of sales for particular cannabis products and indicate which products in a given category were popular.

Cannabis tracking flow chart
Metrc facilitates seed-to-sale cannabis tracking and tracing for both regulation and compliance (photo: Metrc)

Metrc Protects Customer Privacy

Customer privacy is, understandably, a primary concern for the platform’s users. Franwell, Inc. is clear and unequivocal in its promise never to sell customer information. Only Franwell, Inc. and the State of California are authorized to access system information, which technically belongs to the state as its regulatory, legally mandated collected data.

Even though Metrc is a mandatory system, Franwell wants its clients to understand and have confidence in the regulatory platform and to that end maintains a free YouTube channel featuring several training videos and a near hour-and-a-half long Metrc introductory lecture (some of the videos are embedded in this article).

Metrc is the Key to The Canna-Business

I’ve yet to work in a storefront dispensary or in any physical area of the cannabis industry (other than as a blogger), yet after researching the Metrc system and reviewing these videos, I already feel fairly conversant with California’s cannabis regulatory regime.

I believe that understanding the foundation on which the legal industry rests is essential for grasping the seriousness of the business end of cannabis commerce, a seriousness that is essential for the cannabis consumer, employee, employer and for overall cannabis industry success.

Metrc Bakersfield Workshop 1-29-18: Introduction to California Cannabis Track-and-Trace System

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