(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Arkansas’ medical marijuana companies are again clashing with the software vendor that operates the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system.
Cultivators and dispensaries complain that patient and product data disappear, the software often goes down, available training is insufficient and that customer service is poor when problems do arise.
The vendor, BioTrack, called the complaints misleading and inaccurate, saying it had gone above and beyond its contractual obligations to the state.
Officials for licensed cannabis companies and BioTrack testified before the state Legislature’s Medical Marijuana Oversight subcommittee Wednesday.
The testimony made evident problems that can arise in one of the most heavily regulated industries in the state — where every transaction must be logged, from seeds at the cultivation facility to patients purchasing cannabis at a dispensary counter.
“There is no perfect software system out there; there is no perfect provider,” said Bill Paschall, executive director of the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association.
It’s the patients that suffer. When you cannot get the product to the individuals who need it the most, it is indeed the patients who suffer.
– State Sen. Linda Chesterfield
Conflicts between licensed medical marijuana companies and BioTrack go back to the start of the industry in Arkansas. The first dispensary experienced delays before its grand opening due to struggles with the software.
Last year, the Medical Marijuana Oversight subcommittee heard nearly identical complaints from the cannabis industry about BioTrack.
The Florida company contracts with the state to host ARStems, the seed-to-sale tracking system. It also provides point-of-sale service to many of the state’s dispensaries.
BioTrack Vice President Moe Afaneh blamed several of the problems companies have had on user errors, and a memo BioTrack provided the committee defended the company.
“In the five years that BioTrack has hosted Arkansas’ Medical Marijuana Seed to Sale System, called ARStems, BioTrack has met or exceeded every contractual obligation with the State of Arkansas. [Complaints] submitted to the ALC Medical Marijuana Oversight Subcommittee on November 14, 2022, [are] misleading, and in many instances inaccurate.”
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The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, which enforces medical marijuana regulations, has issued more than 100 violations over the last year, according to the agency. Those violations range from advertising infractions to inconsistencies in inventory.
ABC Director Doralee Chandler told lawmakers on Wednesday that she estimates that marijuana companies cite software problems for about 75% of those violations. The agency didn’t have data available on Wednesday about how many violations in the last year involved a BioTrack issue.
But Paschall said companies rarely appeal violations due to legal costs and time.
In Arkansas, there are 38 licensed dispensaries and eight growing facilities; all must be inspected twice a year.
The way forward
Scott Hardin, an ABC spokesman, said agency officials have been meeting with BioTrack officials weekly for more than a year.
“During this time, progress has been made, as the number of unresolved issues remains lower from week to week,” he said.
BioTrack’s current $560,000 contract with the state expires in 2024. ABC will then put the contract out for bidding again.
However, some are skeptical that a new vendor would fix the ongoing problems, like Robbin Rahman, executive director of Harvest Cannabis dispensary in Conway.
“We should endeavor to try to improve the relationship [with BioTrack],” he said, noting the Conway dispensary conducts thousands of transactions each month with “every single product tracked down to the gram.”
Rahman emphasized to lawmakers that the cannabis companies bore the brunt of the negative consequences when software problems occur — getting hit with violations or having to temporarily close.
State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) quickly interjected.
“It’s the patients that suffer,” she said. “When you cannot get the product to the individuals who need it the most, it is indeed the patients who suffer.”
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