A buzz-heavy mashup: cannabis, blockchain and traceability

TruTrace tackles the marijuana supply chain; potential for pharma traceability


The surge of commercial activity around marijuana and its cannabinoid derivatives (including FDA-regulated formulations) is well documented; the field has already gone through one boom-and-bust cycle among investors. Meanwhile, the commercial supply chain (at least for medical dispensing) is still going through significant growth pains: not only are growers trying to differentiate each other (analogously to vineyards) but testing labs and distribution organizations are struggling to clarify their trading relationships.

In Canada, at least, a step is being taken forward by a blockchain developer, TruTrace Technologies (Vancouver, BC), which has been working on a pilot program for the past six months with the medical-marijuana program of Shoppers Drug Mart, one of the leading pharmacy chains in the country. TruTrace’s blockchain platform, StrainSecure, is based on HyperLedger technology, and operates from the Microsoft Azure cloud. The company has set up relationships with a number of marijuana producers, and most recently formed a joint venture with another company, Strainprint Technologies, that collects data on lab results, producers and brands.

“There are two big problems with the cannabis supply chain,” says Robert Galarza, TruTrace CEO. “One is the authenticity of products and lab results; the other is the lack of trust among participants—they don’t communicate with each other, and are not accustomed to collaborating.” Overall, he says, “there’s a lack of visibility.” All this occurs in an environment where the black market is still substantially larger than regulated distribution.

Besides the built-in immutability of blockchain, TruTrace’s StrainSecure benefits include and low data latency (i.e., fast communication of messages). StrainSecure has been extended to accommodate QR codes on package labels, and GS1 barcode standards. Galarza says there are efforts to include not only lab results, but even the outputs of laboratory information systems.

A TruTrace news release quotes its Shoppers Drug Market client: “Medical cannabis should have the same levels of traceability and accountability as any other drug therapy in order for patients and prescribers to feel confident about it as a treatment,” said Ken Weisbrod, Shoppers Drug Mart’s VP of pharmacy business development and cannabis strategy. (Of course, the whole point of the US’ Drug Supply Chain Security Act [DSCSA], and related efforts in Canada and many other countries, is to raise that level of traceability and accountability.) Galarza says that TruTrace is doing some developmental work in blockchain for food distribution, and for pharma. Blockchain also figures largely in the FDA DSCSA pilot program wrapping up now, with results expected soon.