While much of Colorado enjoys the spoils of a newly minted recreational marijuana industry, Colorado Springs stays on the sidelines. But that doesn't mean the city's existing medical-marijuana scene is exempt from the new regulations that came with passage of Amendment 64.
One such program is the state's new Medical Marijuana Inventory Tracking System. Built by a Florida contractor, MITS is a massive, unified, online computer database with the monumental goal of tracking every single marijuana plant grown in Colorado, from seed to sale. Prior to its implementation on Jan. 1, critics of the amendment had said that without being able to do this the system was ripe for abuse.
Using unique ID numbers and radio-frequency identification tags on each plant, dispensary owners can keep track of exactly where their product is at all times. They're also required to submit that information to the MITS database, allowing the Marijuana Enforcement Division to peek into their inventories without ever setting foot in the shop.
"Everything that we have in the store has to be tagged — nothing can be missing," says Felicia Carvell, head budtender at Canna Meds Wellness Center.
From the outset, each plant is grown on behalf of a "member" patient, who's attached to the center through a red-card ID number. The dispensary can grow up to six plants on behalf of that patient. But shop owners are quick to point out that the harvest from those plants isn't reserved for that one specific patient, and the system doesn't track who actually buys the pot from a given plant.
"It stops at the register that it got sold at, period," says Front Range Alternative Medicines owner Christina, who withheld her last name. "We need to emphasize to people that this does not mean that it'll be known who bought it."
MITS is designed to do more than just track plant numbers. Within the grow, Christina adds, the RFID tags work "just like a tracking device on a FedEx [package]." A center employee scans a barcode and finds out instantly where that individual plant is in her inventory. For shops with huge grow rooms or large farming operations, this makes finding plants easier.
"[You can] take your plant scanner and you can go into your room without actually being in the area of the plant, and the scanner will tell you with a beep where it's at," she says. "It's like a metal detector. It gets stronger [the closer you get]."
MITS could also be a part of any institutionalized testing of the plants. If a batch sample were to return from testing tainted, the RFID tags should help dispensaries identify and dispose of unfit product more easily.
Of course, there has been plenty of industry pushback since the system rolled out Jan. 1. It's a new system that doesn't get along with existing point-of-sale software. Plus, the tags cannot be reused, and dispensaries have to pay between 25 and 45 cents for each and every tag, a significant cost when plant counts can run into the thousands.
"It'll remain to be seen how many tags we actually end up going through," said Brandy Spaulding, manager at JP Wellness. "Everything they make us do, though, is regulated, which means it costs money. I kind of expect it at this point. They won't just roll out something we don't have to pay for."
There's also the question of how effective the system is anyway, as raised by one center owner who asked not to be named by the Indy for fear of regulatory retribution. "The database fails at its initial intended purpose, which was to be able to go in with an RFID reader and just scan for tags, and then it automatically counts without them having to rummage around and count plants." He argues, "All you have to do is take your RFID tag and put it in the microwave for 10 seconds, and it deactivates the RFID sensor. So, now you can hang tags on plants that don't send a signal."
And finally, the system mandates that employees do more data entry, covering both MITS and their existing software. "It's just kind of a pain in the butt, because some of us have to do everything twice," Spaulding says, adding, "If you've been doing everything MED wanted you to do, you already had everything in place."