Marijuana businesses air complaints to Arkansas lawmakers

Panel hears of products lost in inventory-tracking system

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif.
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif.

Members of Arkansas' medical marijuana industry at a legislative subcommittee meeting last week aired frustrations with the state contractor used to track cannabis products and sales.

The vice chairwoman of the Arkansas Legislative Council's Medical Marijuana Oversight Subcommittee, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, raised the issue on Thursday, saying she had heard concerns about the accuracy of data in the Biotrack system and that the company had not been responsive to providers' needs.

The state, through the Arkansas Department of Health, signed a $560,000 contract with Biotrack in 2017, which can be renewed annually through 2024.

Under rules from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, all medical marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries must use an inventory tracking system implemented by the state to track products from seed to distribution.

According to the contract, the software system is used to collect and report "seed to sale" tracking information for medical marijuana products. It is required to provide in real time the total amount of marijuana and manufactured marijuana product purchased by a qualifying patient or caregiver from dispensaries in any two-week period.

The contract also requires the state to have access to data from dispensaries and cultivation facilities, including the total amount of seeds and plants in possession, total product inventory and information about the transport of the product.

"If it's down and it's not working, then that is a glitch in the process, and we want to make sure that the citizens of this state who have these [medical marijuana patient ID] cards are given the best possible service," Chesterfield said, adding that she'd like to see representatives for the company and Alcoholic Beverage Control, which oversees regulation of medical-marijuana businesses, at the panel's next meeting.

Members of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association echoed those concerns.

Alex Gray, owner of the Pine Bluff-based cultivator Good Day Farm Arkansas, said the business hears of issues including products disappearing in the system "on a daily basis" and that the company works with Alcoholic Beverage Control to address them.

Others in the association also had complaints, but acknowledged there was likely no perfect solution as there aren't many similar companies for the cannabis industry.

"I don't believe there is a perfect software solution in existence right now," Robert DeBin, president and CEO of the White Hall-based cultivator Natural State Medicinals, said. "That being said, it's the No. 1 thing that keeps me up at night. ... It's been mentioned that things disappear, I've witnessed it with my own eyes, groups of things disappearing and reappearing as a different product."

Those kinds of problems cause deliveries to be delayed, he said, and the company's tech support is often slow.

"That's a regular occurrence. It's extremely frustrating," he said.

Biotrack's governmental affairs line did not return calls seeking comment by Friday evening.

DeBin said his company was implementing a separate system to keep track of products internally in addition to inputting data into Biotrack, so that information isn't lost.

Robbin Rahman, executive director of Harvest Cannabis Dispensary in Conway, noted that there was a "very steep learning curve" for using the system, and a very thin margin for error, so things had improved as employees got to know the system better. But he called the company's tech support "almost non-existent," making the business unable to complete sales when a problem arises.

Connie Melton, director of the Center for Health Protection at the Arkansas Department of Health, said Thursday she had not received any complaints about the contractor.

"We work with Biotrack consistently. I'd be happy, afterwards, to get some more information from you," she told Chesterfield.

Scott Hardin, spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, said the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division is aware of certain concerns and issues that medical-marijuana permit holders have faced with the software.

"We take seriously any impediment to the successful operation of our permitted growers and sellers throughout the state. As a result, there have been several occasions in which we have contacted Biotrack to assist in the resolution of issues. When a concern is brought to our attention, we document it and do everything we can within our authority to provide support," Hardin said in an email Friday.

Hardin said the data tracked by the system is valuable from a regulatory perspective and for "tracking the health of the industry as a whole."

In 2019, the opening of the state's first dispensary was tested by problems with marijuana sales tracking software.

The Department of Health has an additional contract with Biotrack for the distribution of medical marijuana patient cards, Hardin said.

The Medical Marijuana Oversight Subcommittee was created by Act 632 of 2021, which was sponsored by Chesterfield. Under the law, the panel is tasked with providing advice on all matters relating to Amendment 98, the constitutional change legalizing cannabis for medical use that Arkansas voters approved in 2016.

Medical cannabis is a growing industry in Arkansas, with sales surpassing $365 million in July. More than 54,000 pounds have been sold since the first dispensaries opened in May 2019, and there were 78,943 active medical marijuana ID cards in the state as of Aug. 21.