CO: Marijuana Tracking Measure Resurfaces

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

A bill that died early in the 2018 legislative session that would have given a single company a monopoly in tracking medical and recreational marijuana has resurfaced, much to the chagrin of many in the marijuana industry who opposed it.

The new measure, SB279, was introduced by the same state lawmaker who backed the original measure, SB29: Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.

Like the new bill, the first measure was highly criticized by just about everyone in the marijuana industry, partly because it favored a specific type of tracking system over others, including a company based in Grand Junction.

Under it, the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University-Pueblo would be authorized to identify a single company to help it study the feasibility of adding some sort of compound or chemical agent to marijuana to allow it to be tracked from seed to sale.

Doing so would, at least theoretically, enable law enforcement to know whether marijuana seized in the investigation of a crime was legally grown in the state.

But skeptics say the bill doesn’t account for dealers in the black or gray market to use that same tracking agent to allow them to introduce their illegal pot into the market, nor does it address concerns about adding some foreign agent to a product that is ingested.

Lambert, however, dismissed such criticism.

“If there is lack of support for the bill, it seems pretty irrational to me,” Lambert said. “The agent would be completely benign. Whatever they think is adulterating the plant is not true. Not true. That would not be permitted anyway by health codes.”

Not only would the bill require all medical and recreational stores and legal growing operations to pay for and use the new technology at an unknown cost, but it also would require law enforcement to purchase the scientific equipment needed to track whatever agent is used.

The only difference between the two bills is the new measure does not include hemp, something Lambert said he wanted to strip out back in February when he asked the Senate Business, Labor & Technology Committee to kill his own measure.

The new bill wasn’t assigned to that panel, but to the Senate Finance Committee, a group that generally deals with money matters and not marijuana.

Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said her organization was very much against the first measure, but hasn’t yet taken a position on the new bill. Still, given that they are nearly identical, Kelly said there are some “challenges” that still need to be addressed.

“There are a number of issues with the bill, and there are downstream consequences that haven’t fully been considered,” she said. “With the original bill, we had concerns about the single-source contract, we had concerns about the implementation and we had concerns about how the technology could potentially be challenging from a health and safety perspective.”

When the first bill was introduced on the first day of the session in January, the owners of the Grand Junction-based Source Certain International immediately objected, sending a letter to Lambert outlining their concerns.

In that letter, company representative Glenn McClellan said the bill unfairly excluded companies such as his because its tracking technology doesn’t need to add anything to a plant to track it.

Source Certain was founded in Perth, Australia, where the company has for the past 30 years tracked agriculture and mineral products. That technology uses forensic-like techniques that can profile a plant based on its original habitat, such as water and soil condition.

The technique calls for categorizing a product’s profile in a complex computer database that allows plants to be tested later in life and tied directly back to the field where they grew. Adding an agent, by comparison, could be done at any time, meaning the marijuana plants may not have come from a legal grow operation.

The technology can be used for such things as tracking tainted produce to their source or verifying that a bottle of wine came from wherever its label says, preventing someone from selling fraudulent products.

Source Certain located its first North American headquarters in Grand Junction as part of the Colorado Rural Jump Start Tax Credit Program, created by the Legislature in 2014 to help boost the economies in rural parts of the state. It came to the Western Slope, in part, because of hopes of using its technology in the marijuana market both in Colorado and nationwide.

Currently, the state has a contract with a Florida-based company, Franwell Inc., to use a system called Metrc, a software program that tracks marijuana using a paper tag with a bar code attached to pot plants.

As it stands now — the bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing — the measure has no sponsors other than Lambert. Reps. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, and Dan Pabon, D-Denver, are not sponsoring it in the House as they did the first bill.

Pabon said there’s good reason for that.

“There was concern about some sort of unnatural source being introduced into the product, but that was nothing we had ever contemplated,” Pabon said. “The additive part was problematic in the original bill, and I think Senator Lambert might have some challenges with that.”

With the session ending next week, Lambert doesn’t have much time to get the bill through.