All About Seed-to-Sale Tracking: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

All about seed-to-sale tracking: the good, the bad, and the ugly

As cannabis legalization is gaining momentum all around the world, the topic of seed-to-sale tracking is also getting more attention—both good and bad. As we’ve come to learn, legalization isn’t just a matter of signing on the dotted line, it requires a complete overhaul of the industry.

For regulators and legislators, it’s become imperative to regulate the cannabis supply chain. This is where seed-to-sale tracking comes into play.

What is seed-to-sale tracking?

To put simply, seed-to-sale tracking is a system used to keep track of the cannabis life cycle, all the way from harvesting to manufacturing, to packaging, testing, and finally, to retail. Each seed or plant is assigned a unique 16-digit identifier, which authorities can then use to look up the seed or plant history since propagation.

It’s important to note that companies have already been implementing their own version of seed tracking as a way to provide consumers with important information about their seeds, including date of harvest, date of shipment, and other useful information—this initiative wasn’t developed out of a need to regulate, but rather out of a desire to inform consumers. It wasn’t about tracking, but education.

Seed-to-sale tracking deviates considerably from this, as it was born out of the requirement to appease legal requirements and legislators. It is a contentious topic among cannabis enthusiasts, with some hailing it as a necessary good, while others are more critical. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of this regulatory standard.

The benefits

There’s no denying that seed-to-sale tracking consistently produces safe and high-quality products. With additional oversight and quality assurance, the cannabis production process is more transparent than ever.  

The benefit of being able to track every single step of a cannabis product’s journey is so important to uphold accountability, satisfy regulatory requirements, and prevent bad batches from being sold to consumers.

Some other benefits of seed-to-sale tracking include the ability to:

  • Recall unsafe cannabis products
  • Prevent contaminated materials from reaching the unregulated market, and vice versa
  • Track the product in all stages of its life cycle
  • Prevent the product from reaching certain groups, e.g. people who are underage
  • Give regulators peace of mind about where the product is coming from

The downside

Like any highly regulated industry, seed-to-sale tracking is a highly complex system. And because of the industry’s additional requirements, it creates a number of extra steps for producers surrounding the cannabis production process. This can be a tedious process for a grower, producer, or dispensary who may have limited resources and is further expected to meet the stringent demands of the government and regulatory bodies.

The above actors—growers, producers, and dispensaries—have the added responsibility of procuring a comprehensive tracking system that is both cost-effective and that meets cannabis industry standards. If businesses are unable to meet the requirements, they could face hefty fines and federal law intervention.

The end result is that bigger ‘box store’ producers and dispensaries can afford to foot the cost of adopting these sophisticated tracking methods, because they have more financial stability, and the physical infrastructure to meet these needs, whereas smaller producers may be edged out because of their more modest resources.

Seed-to-sale tracking has upended the cannabis market: when the industry was still underground, producers had more control of their product, which in some ways, led to more innovation. The seed-to-sale tracking system could prevent innovation, and foment distrust among smaller-scale producers and consumers.

It also begs the question of whether the discoveries made years ago would have been possible in the highly regulated industry. Many consumers are expressing dissatisfaction with the trajectory of cannabis production, choosing to buy underground to preserve the authentic buying experience, and limit their support for an industry that is propped up by tech companies and government.

All About Seed-to-Sale Tracking: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The problems

The cannabis industry is required to uphold transparency at all stages of the product’s life cycle, but what regulatory agencies do with all the data is up to them. Regulatory agencies and law enforcement are able to look up every single product’s life cycle from the comfort of their traceability portal. The ability to granularly look into the life cycle of every single product brings up a few questions.

On the retail side, at what point is it acceptable for the government to track the private consumption habits of consumers? Do we know that consumer information won’t be shared with third parties? And in terms of future regulatory requirements, will this data be used to enforce more strict measures on the producers? Will there be limits to who can produce, what, and where?

There is legitimate concern about the way this data is used—especially considering what we know about how governments use and analyze consumer data. There is little transparency on how this information is used, and this fails to uphold the accountability argument that is so often touted by governments.

Additionally, many have expressed reluctance to support highly regulatory measures because it disproportionately rewards the big box producers, and punishes the mom and pop shops for not having adequate resources to adapt.

There are so many new fingers in the pie that some consumers may feel disillusioned with the future of cannabis production. In many ways, the industry is already being consolidated, so the question is: what happens to the mom and pop growers? Or the consumers who don’t want a homogenized product?

Cannabis is a money-maker—and thanks to seed-to-sale technology, there are even more opportunities to make a profit. Technology companies are popping up in droves trying to make a buck off the business. The question remains: has it gone too far?

Let us know what you think about seed-to-sale technology: Is it a step in the right direction, or is it in need of improvement?