The Week Ahead
(July 22, 2019)

While I would like to say with confidence that the worst of the fires have been put out after ignition last week by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) and its seed-to-sale traceability vendor MJ Freeway, it is not clear if those fires are well and truly dead. Quite a few hotspots continue to burn and we’ll see downstream effects from actions taken last week.

While the traceability system was established to enable reporting to help the agency ensure regulatory compliance, its scope also includes mission-critical inventory management functions. Industry reactions to the inability to conduct business-to-business transfers in the wake of release 1.37.5 unfortunately demonstrated the risk of continued dependence on a centralized, state-managed system for this fundamental business function – especially one engineered and operated by MJ Freeway.

As of late morning on Friday July 19th, the third-party software providers who were operating collaboratively and transparently indicated that the vast majority of transfers were successfully flowing through their systems. In part, this was because of patches applied and scripts run by the vendor and WSLCB over the course of the week. But the lion’s share of the fire suppression was carried out by the software integrators working around code and data issues introduced by MJ Freeway – and often exacerbated in innovative ways by that vendor’s ham-fisted attempts at repair. WeedTraQR, Cultivera, and GrowFlow distinguished themselves and their products by helping the agency navigate the industry back towards stability this week. MJ Freeway distinguished themselves in their inability to identify and fix business-halting problems in their own codebase – while their public relations staff stated “The system is performing per the specifications given to us by the LCB.” The vendor, perhaps more focused on its stock performance, was kind enough to “certainly apologize for the inconvenience.

The labs also deserve honored mention for their endurance and performance through an exhausting week – and into the future. The majority of new functionality in release 1.37.5 impacts testing labs and lab result data. Lab workflows were locked down in Leaf Data Systems in an attempt to have the codebase enforce relevant laws and rules of the State of Washington. It appears to have been something of an afterthought for the vendor to ensure historical data remained valid under new assumptions. While several issues have impacted lab results, the handling of tests marked by the labs as “not detected” or “ND” deserves special mention.

Contemporary scientific methods for identifying trace levels of substances have limits of detection; below those limits of detection, a lab cannot say with certainty that the substance—such as a pesticide—does or does not exist. To communicate that circumstance prior to release 1.37.5, labs would specify the characters “ND” in the Leaf database. Release 1.37.5 changed those fields to only accept numeric values, precluding labs from being able to clearly communicate legally defensible and scientifically accurate assertions. Worse, MJ Freeway’s data fixes for release 1.37.5 changed all of the existing “ND” values to NULL immediately causing any product with those values to no longer register as having passed the lab tests, therefore becoming ineligible for transfer. Shockingly, the agency and vendor decided the solution to this problem would be to reset all of the NULL values to 0.0 – a very different test result and one which labs consider legally indefensible. In one of many workaround memos issued by the WSLCB over the course of the week, the agency indicated its awareness of this jeopardy by recommending labs associate a written disclaimer stating, ‘An entered result of “0” for fields not required for testing under WAC 246-70-05 indicates no result.’

It was a trying week for the agency, its vendor, the software providers, the labs, and transporters with very little to transport. But almost all licensed producers, processors, and retailers suffered very real financial impacts and unasked for stress from events largely outside of their control. What outcomes should the industry advocate for and expect emerging from the latest MJ Freeway debacle? Is more of the same acceptable to anyone at this point? Here at Cannabis Observer, we’ve heard that the WSLCB and the State are “exploring all options” including cancellation of the contract with MJ Freeway. Now is a good time to advocate for the future you’d like to see. At Wednesday’s Special Board Meeting, I continued advocating for the agency to sever its ties with MJ Freeway as soon as possible, a re-think of the purpose and continued appropriateness of seed-to-sale traceability, and a shift to a reporting-only system using audits as needed to ensure compliance.

We’ll find out more in the week ahead.

TODAY: On Monday July 22nd at 11am PT @ WSLCB, a Traceability Update will be shared with the third-party software providers.

TUESDAY: On Tuesday July 23rd at 10am PT @ WSLCB, the weekly Board Caucus recurs.

WEDNESDAY: On Wednesday July 23rd, the bi-weekly WSLCB Board Meeting has been cancelled. A Special Board Meeting was hosted last week in anticipation of this week’s cancellation. In other cancellation news, last week’s Traceability Advisory Committee meeting was cancelled “to allow the LCB team to focus on the Leaf software.”

On Wednesday July 23rd at 1:30pm PT @ WSLCB, the three-member Board and agency leadership convene their weekly Executive Management Team meeting, currently on a bi-weekly cadence.

THURSDAY: On Thursday July 24th at 10am PT @ WSLCB, the bi-weekly Marijuana Traceability Project (MTP) Integrator Work Session recurs. This is not a formal public meeting, but is open to interested parties.

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