June 9, 2021
METRC, the system used by many states to track cannabis from seed to sale, was inoperative in Michigan for one and one-half hours on Wednesday, June 9. By itself this is not a remarkable event, as METRC frequently crashes, but the vulnerability of the system is illustrated at a time when one trade association in Michigan wants to require 30,000 caregivers to use METRC to track all their plants and sales.
Cannabis plants in MIchigan’s commercial gardens are each assigned a special identification number after they reach a certain size. The plant’s progress is tracked by computer as it grows, is tested, harvested, dried, packaged, shipped to a retailer and eventually sold. Each cultivation center has up to ten thousand plants being tracked at any given time and there are more than one hundred commercial cannabis gardens in Michigan.
The computer system which tracks the growing, harvesting and sale of cannabis plants and products is the METRC system. It is used by many states and some individual companies; its database is huge; when METRC goes down, the suffering is widespread.
The Michigan Cannabis Manufacturer’s Association has reportedly been asking lawmakers to require Michigan caregivers to track all their plants and sales through the METRC system. A list of MCMA legislative goals was recently leaked via social media, and this caregiver restriction was listed as a legislative priority by the MCMA. The idea that the system could handle the additional work of tracking 30,000 individual growing operations is not well thought out, according to industry insiders.
Speaking on the ‘Smokin’ Rope’ podcast June 9, Tom Beller of Real Leaf Solutions brought up the METRC outage and what might happen if the caregivers were dumped onto a system barely able to handle its current workload. The show’s guests were Jamie Lowell and Rick Thompson.
“Today, METRC was down,” Beller informed the audience. “It was restored at 1:30 today. And that’s just with the current licenses- growers, processors, retailers, transporters. At this time it’s already maxed out. It goes down all the time.”
“The system itself would be so overloaded,” Thompson supposed. “Thirty thousand additional people putting input into the system… Not only would that swamp the state system, it would swamp METRC nationally.”
“And there’s no reason for it,” Lowell finished.
The MCMA legislative ‘wish list’ included mandatory testing of all caregiver cannabis, too. There are approx. 15 licensed testing facilities in Michigan and they are already quite busy testing commercial cannabis, Beller explained. “We are lacking in safety compliance facilities,” Beller said, of Michigan’s cannabis testing facilities. “We don’t have enough to necessarily handle the licensed facilities, let alone if we had all the caregivers bringing everything they possibly grew… You don’t have the capacity to test it.”
“The currently licensed regulated centers would never be able to get a test accomplished and keep their product on the shelf,” Thompson offered.
After a series of missteps by the trade group’s Executive Director Steve Linder, Michigan’s cannabis community began a decentralized boycott of all cultivation and retail facilities associated with Linder. The boycott caused the group’s President to resign his position and withdraw his company from the MCMA; numerous national cannabis brand names are working to disassociate themselves from the MCMA; and the group voted in a new Board Chair and spokesperson on June 8, former director of the state’s cannabis program Shelly Edgerton, who is employed by one of the MCMA member companies.
The move to push for significant restrictions on the caregiver system continues, said Lowell, even though lawmakers should be hesitant to stand behind a proposal so controversial and unnecessary. Legislators will soon be enjoying their annual summer break, but there will be no break in the MCMA’s lobbying for these changes, Lowell warned.
Beller offered the best advice for legislators considering cannabis law reform efforts. “Remove the roadblocks, instead of just removing the road.”