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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. Global standardization group GS1 launching cannabis traceability program
  2. System will allow cannabis products to be tracked through their supply chain process from cultivation to processing to transport and sale
  3. Comparable system to long-existing standards for food and pharmaceuticals expected to take several years

Legal cannabis is one step closer to achieving the same level of standardization other industries have enjoyed for decades.

Last week, the Canadian arm of GS1 – the global non-profit charged with defining products and tracking them as they move through international supply chains – invited several hundred companies to participate in its Cannabis Traceability Work Group. Building off the pilot program launched by Shoppers Drug Mart and Toronto-based TruTrace earlier this year, GS1 is aiming to establish the same rigorous tracking standards for cannabis that producers of food, medical devices and pharmaceuticals have enjoyed for decades.

“These same global standards can be leveraged to ensure a safe and effective cannabis production, distribution and traceability system in Canada,” reads an excerpt from a Sept. 18 letter sent to every cannabis license holder in the country on behalf of executives from Aleafia Health, Aphria, Tilray, RavenQuest, Rubicon Organics and Zenabis. “Canada’s licenced producer community is committed to leveraging GS1 Canada Industry Managed Solutions (IMS) for image and data capture, allowing us to efficiently share our 100% accurate and up-to-date content with all the provincial jurisdictions we do business with based on a one-to-many approach.”

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Brian Sterling, president of SCS Consulting who is acting as an adviser to GS1 on cannabis, said the “intent was to cast the net very broadly” to get as many industry players involved in the standardization process as possible.

“Once the industry starts to collaborate on these things you start to reach a critical mass of people saying this is actually going to really help us because we can all use the same system and not duplicate proprietary software over and over and over again,” Mr. Sterling said.

Once the system is up and running, which Mr. Sterling says should take about a year for rudimentary operations and several more years to reach a full critical mass, legal cannabis retail employees will be able to scan any product and see its entire life cycle from seed-level all the way to when it was received by the store.

“For the first time ever, once you are able to buy, say, an edible, not only will we be able to show you where that product moved from the manufacturer to the processor to the cultivator and all the different components between those stops, but we can actually show you the genetic lineage line from the mother to the clone to the mature plant to the harvested plant,” TruTrace CEO Robert Galarza explained in an interview. “All of that data will exist on the [blockchain].”

TruTrace is currently the only software provider working in cannabis traceability and although the company has been working with GS1, Mr. Sterling said the organization will never endorse a specific traceability system.

“Shoppers and TruTrace were the early ones to see the power of this... [but] TruTrace might be one of many software companies that gets certified as being a part of the larger system,” he said, “but [producers] are going to buy different software and [GS1] wants to make sure that whatever software is out there and working doesn’t muck around with the data that it has to integrate."

GS1 “has been wonderful to us,” Mr. Galarza said, “but at the same time they’ve made it clear that we can’t be the only one, to which we’ve said no problem as long as we can be among the certified methodologies used in this infrastructure.”

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“We are sitting in a great position as the leader and being the first one in the market with a large partner [Shoppers], but we don’t want to own it all,” Mr. Galarza said. “What some people don’t realize is, now that we are entering a new framework [for cannabis extract-based products] that include some food products and international import-export products, as all of that expands, we have to have a system that can communicate with all of those systems that already exist.”

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