Humboldt County cannabis may fall under watch of two separate tracking systems

  • Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf (far right) speaks to participants at a track-and-trace training workshop in outer Eureka in this December 2017 file photo. - Will Houston — The Times-Standard

  • This stamp must be used by all permitted cannabis businesses in Humboldt County and is used as part of the county’s track-and-trace program. - Humboldt County — provided

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Humboldt County cannabis businesses may soon have to participate in two seed-to-sale tracking systems and it’s currently unclear whether the two will be compatible.

After initiating a pilot program that began in 2016, Humboldt County is already using its track-and-trace system through the Swedish company SICPA, the same company that tracks cigarette sales in the state. But the state has chosen a different tracking system that is also used by Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada: Franwell Inc.’s METRC.

How the county and state systems will interact and whether or not one tracking program will win out over the other is currently unknown.

“Since there is currently no operating state track and trace program it is really premature to say how the county and state programs will interact and ultimately what information will eventually be shared with local jurisdictions,” county Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf said.

Any cannabis business licensed by the state and permitted in Humboldt County must participate in both tracking programs. Both the state and county governments are now working to train cannabis business owners on how to use the new systems, with a state training session having been held in Eureka earlier this month.

Dolf said about 100 permitted cannabis businesses are under the county’s system and that they are working to arrange training sessions for local cultivators who obtained temporary permits from the county.

California Department of Food and Agriculture spokesman Steve Lyle said Monday that the state’s track and trace system will go into effect for any cannabis businesses that have an annual license, with that application process already underway. The state had been issuing temporary licenses since late 2017 to allow cannabis business to open when the newly regulated market began on Jan. 1 while they work to submit their application for an annual license.

These temporary licenses last for four months but can be extended for another 180 days if the person has applied for an annual license, according to the state. That means the state’s tracking program may be active as soon as May, though Lyle did respond to the Times-Standard’s question on when they expect the METRC system to be operational.

Nathan Whittington is a cannabis farmer in outer Ferndale who has participated in they county’s track and trace system since it first began as a pilot program. He said he has received his temporary state license and is now waiting to see what will happen later this year when the state’s tracking program comes online.

“There is a potential that for this year in May or June we are going to have to implement both systems and we don’t even know what the costs of METRC are going to be,” Whittington said.

Both the county’s and state’s tracking systems use a series of identifiers — whether QR-coded stamps, plant tags or package labels — that can be scanned, allowing regulators to tell where a product came from and where it’s been.

Whittington said the county’s program costs several hundred dollars to obtain the stamps, not including the costs to have staff trained on how to use the program and ensure that all the product is in the system.

According to the METRC website, the costs for its plant tags and other identifiers is included in the state licensing fees.

At least for cultivators, the county and state tracking programs differ in that the state requires a grower to tag the plant before it matures and then tag it with a separate tag when it begins to flower. The county only requires a plant to be tagged when it is flowering, Whittington said.

“The concern there is if I’m having to track this thing before its even flowering, what’s the purpose of that?” Whittington said.

Lyle said that Franwell Inc. is set to meet with local governments that have adopted their own track-and-trace programs to discuss how those systems can interact with the state, or if they can.

“And also to determine whether or not it is feasible and/or necessary for the state system to interface/interact with locally mandated track-and-trace systems,” Lyle wrote in an email to the Times-Standard.

Dolf said SICPA has performed an analysis of the state’s METRC program and found that the county’s program cannot currently access information from the state’s.

When the county adopted a track and trace system, it included a “proof of origin” stamp that displays that the product was grown or created in Humboldt County. The purpose of this is to protect the county’s unofficial brand as a cannabis capital from being misappropriated by imposters seeking to bolster their marketing.

Should the county system eventually be undone, Whittington said it would appear the proof of origin stamp would go with it.

“We definitely have a name and we need to protect our name and right now SICPA is our best chance at protecting it,” Whittington said.

Dolf said that the county system may be able to access the state’s program eventually, “but will likely add additional steps for county staff as we do compliance inspections and for proof-of-origin requirements and for marking and branding products cultivated in Humboldt County.”

Regardless of the cost and technical back-and-forth between state and local governments, Whittington said that having a track-and-trace program in place is essential for the success of the newly regulated market.

“The commitment I’ve seen from the state and locals and actors involved is that everyone is clearly committed to moving forward making a good transparent marketplace that can protect patients and consumers,” Whittington said.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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