Tracking Legal Weed in the USA

Every legally grown marijuana plant is locked into a state tracking system

The United States (U.S.) cannabis industry plays a pivotal role in healthcare and several other areas, including the economy and criminal justice. With 33 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (DC) legalising cannabis for medical use, as well as 10 states and DC legalising it for recreational use, cannabis industry is becoming a crutch for a number of states. Thus, cannabis regulation has more far-reaching ramifications than just health concerns, and must therefore be crafted with due diligence.

A number of states have adopted tracking systems to determine the cannabis on the market is, in fact, legal. This is also beneficial to the state to help determine revenue. Given the delicate, conflicting nature of the cannabis business in the U.S., where the crop remains illegal on the federal level but legal in a number of states, tracking is also important to ensuring that cannabis doesn’t spill over from states where it’s legal to state’s where it’s illegal.

Tagged cannabis plants. Source

Tracking cannabis — Michigan as an example

Since October, the Michigan state government has undertaken the herculean task of tracking every single marijuana plant throughout its entire lifespan. Official reports show that in the last five months, the Michigan government has successfully tracked marijuana plants amounting to 8,000 pounds of medical marijuana sold across state dispensaries. 

From farm beds to delivery points at licensed dispensaries, the government uses a tracking system to collect data on a every single legally grown medical marijuana plant in the state. With this tracking system, officials at the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs are aware of the exact number of marijuana plants sitting on the shelves of dispensaries. The Department also has knowledge of what plants are being disposed of for failing safety tests, or being harvested at any point in time. 

To handle this complicated task, the vast majority of states partaking in the tracking process use Metrc tracing system.


From growers to delivery services and dispensaries, every business in the industry’s supply chain is required to log information about marijuana plants onto a software system called Metrc. Metrc is track-and-trace system created by Metrc, LLC. It provides end-to-end tracking for government agencies — not only cannabis-related — and has been deployed across many other legal adult-use states — not just Michigan — including Colorado, California and Oregon.

Stages in the medical marijuana tracking process

  1. Plant bed: 
    There are numerous ways to plant a marijuana plant, including planting stems cut from the “mother” plant, and sowing hemp seeds. But regardless of the method being used, a marijuana plant is only considered a “plant” by the Michigan government when it has developed a critical root mass. Growers are required to report to state officials all new marijuana plants that qualify as a “plant” according to official standards. The government assigns a permanent Metrc tag with its unique bar code to all new plants.
  2. Harvesting: 
    The tag remains on the plant until it goes full flower and is cut down for harvesting. The plant’s weight is immediately saved to the Metrc database, and after it has dried, it’s new weight is also entered into the database.
  3. Trimming: 
    The flowers cut off from the dried plant are stored in a bag tagged with a Metrc tracking sticker that bears the plant’s unique bar code. Separate bags containing leaves from the same plant for various purposes will still carry the same unique bar code.
  4. Testing: 
    From farm houses, the leaves are sent to labs for testing, and the results are saved on the Metrc database and printed on the leaves’ package. These results show the plant’s chemical profile, including the levels of THC and CBD, and also check for contaminants such as pesticides, mold, heavy metals, bacteria like E.coli and salmonella. State officials monitor these lab results unfailingly on a daily basis.
  5. Transportation: 
    Only state-licensed companies are allowed to transport marijuana in Michigan. Once the airtight containers containing marijuana are delivered at a provisioning center, the staff at the center then log information about the delivery of the plants on Metrc under the plants’ unique bar codes.
  6. Processing: 
    Cannabis flowers that have passed the first lab tests can either be sold as flower to medical marijuana patients or sent to a processor. Processors are state-licensed facilities that extract concentrates from marijuana leaves to fabricate various marijuana-based products such as brownies, cookies, chewing gums, oil extracts for vape pens, etc. These products are also subject to tests to ensure they contain the desired chemical compositions.
  7. Labeling:
    The final packages of all medical marijuana products come with labels that bear the unique bar code of the original marijuana plant they’re made from. The product labeling also bears the chemical composition of the product. The design of the packaging still needs to be sent to state officials for approval, in order to ensure the packages do not appeal to children.
  8. The point of delivery: 
    When the medical cannabis products are sold to card-carrying medical marijuana patients, the details of the transaction are also logged on Merc.
cannabis test result label. src

Final word

The Metrc is a detailed end-to-end track and trace system. It’s use is necessary to the cannabis industry, given the complex nature of the business. Cannabis is legal in a number of states in the U.S. but is illegal on the federal level. This creates conflicts, not only between states and the federal government, but also between states where the drug is legal and states where it isn’t. This calls for regulation so rigorous that tracking the crop from plant to ultimate retail sale is necessary for a number of reasons: To ensure only legal weed is sold, to ensure quality, to determine revenue, to avoid spillage over to bordering states, and more.

Published by Neil

Neil believes Cannabis has medical benefits and should be prescribed by a Doctor. This site aims to provide accurate information on the science and legality of Cannabis so you can make informed decisions.

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