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2/18/2014
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States High on Medical Marijuana Technology

Advocates are optimistic technology will help medical marijuana be more than a pipe dream in a growing number of states.

As medical marijuana legislation heads to voters in several states this fall, legislators are relying on technologists to prevent their dreams of success from going up in smoke.

There is some cause for concern, despite medical marijuana's newly polished public image and the growing crop of solutions targeted specifically at the $2.34-billion market. RFID, sensors, and other technologies lauded as the antidote to black market sales to illicit users haven't always met with success. But implementation, time constraints, and limited budgets, not technology, appear to blame.

Ganja trailblazer Colorado encountered delays in its seed-to-sale marijuana inventory tracking system when it ran out of the RFID tags needed for every plant, brownie, and other pot-laced product available at growers, distributors, or retailers. The state passed out more than 2 million tags by the end of 2013, reported Denver's ABC affiliate. The state plans to pass out another 1.6 million tags, which sell for 25 cents apiece.

Unlike Colorado and Washington, most states are focused solely on medical uses of marijuana, not both medical and recreational use. They plan to roll out sophisticated machine-to-machine systems similar to those already in place at many of the nation's retailers and farmers to ensure marijuana remains solely in authorized hands. Several developers have written solutions specifically for the marijuana industry; others have adapted existing restaurant or retail systems for pot businesses. These systems have a track record, so to speak. They already monitor billions of dollars of other inventory. Why not a different kind of product too?

In Colorado's case, the state tracks and monitors all legally grown and sold cannabis via the Marijuana Inventory Tracking System (MITS). The solution houses data from the RFID tags including the grower or retailer license number, product serial number, and secure ID chip. To reduce theft, MITS can create transport manifests so retailers and regulators know if a shipment gets lost in transit. State law mandates up to six marijuana plants per patient. 

Colorado also requires pot growers to use 24x7 video surveillance and keep footage for several weeks. Clinic, for example, installed up to 60 cameras at each grow facility, 16 cameras at each store, and keeps up to 16 terabytes of images on a series of $50,000 servers, reported Slate. Pure Medical Dispensary runs 48 cameras and developed its own sophisticated digital inventory system that won't integrate with the State's less advanced system.

Although still a work in progress, Colorado's system could assuage some fears about abuse or theft of the cannabis as it moves from field to pharmacy.

(Source: MJ Freeway)

(Source: MJ Freeway)

Growers are also turning to technology to improve their businesses. Like other agricultural endeavors, they rely on weather, soil conditions, and feed to enhance their crops; they must cope with employee, regulatory, and transportation concerns. Products such as The Grow Assistant, TriqSoft, and GrowTracker help pot farmers meet state laws, track plants, and manage harvests. Other applications including GramTracker, Agrisoft Seed to Sale, and MMJ Menu address point of sale, retail or dispensary management, inventory control, patient management, and state reporting. Since usage relates to healthcare, software dealing with their records has to be HIPAA compliant.

The pressure's on in places like Florida, New York, and Washington, D.C., to allow medical marijuana. Technologies like RFID, sensors, and cloud-based video surveillance systems can ensure pot's potential as a healing substance doesn't end up as a pipe dream.

 

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 2:50:23 PM
Re: Medical or recreational?
I haven't heard of any things like RFID, sensors, cloud-based video surveillance etc from the local papers. But there will be hearings on proposed new regulations in the coming weeks, whiich I'm sure will prompt an interesting discussion. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 2:41:37 PM
Re: Medical or recreational?
Is Mass. mandating these medical centers use RFID, sensors, cloud-based video surveillance and/or other technologies to make sure only authorized people are growing/prescribing/selling/using marijuana? And what kind of centralized database, if any, is the state using or expanding to include weed, I wonder?
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 5:20:00 PM
Re: Medical or recreational?
I have a front row seat to the licensing. The state of Massachusetts just ok'd  two facilities to receive license to grow and dispense medical marijuana in a neighboring town. They have to go through the normal local reviews and permitting processes. Should be interesting!

 

Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 4:55:27 PM
Re: Medical or recreational?
That would be interesting to discover. I believe it took quite a while in Colorado but it's steamrolling faster in other states. There are so many layers, from decriminalization to legalization, and so many states involved that it's a pretty convoluted process. Unfortunately, medical and recreational get lumped together. They shouldn't, I don't think, but they do. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 4:53:05 PM
Compelling Research
There is a lot of compelling research from well-respected organizations around the world (Germany and Israel come to mind) that show something within marijuana holds promise. When a friend's mom was dying of cancer, her doctor gave her THC pills to help spark her appetite (they didn't work and her family had to try and figure out an alternative). Seems to me a lollipop laced with THC wouldn't have been worse and could have been better for her. And I wholeheartedly believe people on too much booze are more prone to behave badly than folks on too much weed. There is way too much anecdotal evidence for too many illnesses and conditions for it to be a fluke or lore. 

That said, we have technological tools in place to control kids from getting marijuana. Let's use today's techs and borrow from successful (and steer clear of unsuccesful) attempts in other regulated industries like booze, gambling, smoking cigarettes, etc., which were targeted at adults, but attractive to kids. Let's learn from the pill mills that sprang up; use tech like analytics, big data, RFID early in the process, not afterward. 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 3:24:10 PM
Re: Medical or recreational?
I'm with you on the attraction, being prone enough to lethargy without any chemical help. But given a choice between legalizing versus continuing to funnel tax dollars to the private prison industrial complex to lock people up for breathing burning leaves, I'll take the former every time.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 12:35:53 PM
Medical or recreational?
Someone needs to do the long run analysis of how long it takes medical marijuana to lead to full legalization. Seems to be happening pretty fast. Is that a good thing? I wrote a middle school research project on why legalization makes sense, but I've never been a big pot smoker myself. Inhaling the fumes of burning leaves always struck me as a bad idea in general.
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