RFID Tags Used to Track Marijuana

Colorado requires that growers, processors and retailers of medical or recreational marijuana use EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags to authenticate and identify each plant or product.

With hundreds of recreational marijuana shops planned to open in Colorado on January 1, 2014, the plan is to have every package of buds or processed products, including marijuana-laced brownies, have an RFID tag attached to it. This measure is intended to help the state regulate product and ensure that it comes from authorized sources.

In July 2011, Colorado’s Department of Revenue issued medical marijuana regulations requiring that the pot plants’ and products’ status and whereabouts be recorded throughout the supply chain. The agency also indicated that the state will eventually require the use of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to authenticate and identify each product or plant.

These regulations resulted in the creation of what the state calls Marijuana Inventory Tracking Solutions (MITS), a system that the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division intends to use to track the pot from the greenhouse where it is grown, to the store where it is sold.

The MITS software is designed to track each plant or package, beginning with the moment a marijuana cutting is first planted. Marijuana growers need to purchase the tags, which are available in various forms, including as a hangtag or an adhesive label and attach them to the plants themselves, or to packages of processed marijuana.

The MITS solution, which will come with a cost of around $1.6 million for software and readers, is designed to help the state maintain control over an industry that has been historically illicit and illegal, states Julie Postlethwait, the Marijuana Enforcement Division’s public information officer. The states concerns focus on ensuring state-authorized retailer. In addition, the agency wants to know that what is being sold in the stores comes from an authorized grower. According to Ron Kammerzell, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division senior director, this provides accountability.

Colorado requires that growers of marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, purchase RFID tags and log into the MITS system using the Internet to update a pot product’s status. Marijuana can be bought and sold in amounts of no more than one pound. Currently there are about 500 marijuana retailers registered in the state, as well as 126 “infused product” manufacturers (which also act as distributors) and 700 growers.

Marijuana plants are usually grown from stems rather than from seeds. When a stem is taken from a plant to create another plant, the new plant is given an RFID number which is printed on a tag. The grower reads the ID number printed on the tag and enters that information into the MITS system via the internet. When harvesting a plant, the grower will then discard the plant’s tag and issue another tag when the buds are packaged and shipped to the retailer.

The new tag that is attached to the product for sale will then include the text related to the plant’s origins and multiple other details. In the near future, the grower could choose to install fixed RFID readers at doorways between rooms within the facility, in order to help it and the state track the stage of the process that each plant has reached. Different rooms are used for immature plants, flowering plants and harvesting.

Finally, the processed goods are distributed to retailers that then place them on the shelf for sale. State inspectors equipped with a handheld reader can periodically visit each retail site, where they can read the tags on each product and view that item’s history. This ensures that it meets all necessary processing and inspection criteria.

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