Traceability Training 101

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Seed to Sale Tracking:

Cannabis is tracked from the beginning of its life as an immature vegetative plant to its sale as a finished product. Clones are not typically not tracked. A plant is tagged and enters the traceability system when it becomes 8’ tall or 8” in diameter. The specifics on clone tracking vary by state.

When a clone becomes a vegetative plant, it is issued a unique identifier number. The unique identifier must be attached to the plant (plant tag) until harvest. The cultivator is permitted to use a barcode representing the unique identifier number for ease of scanning but is ultimately responsible for the number vs a barcode.

The traceability system must be updated as the plant moves around the facility during its life cycle. Typically, this means reporting when the plant:

  • Moves Veg to Flower
  • Is harvested and combined with other plants of the same strain (a harvest batch/lot)
  • When the harvest batch/lot is sent to a lab for QA testing
  • When the harvest batch/lot arrives at the lab
  • When the harvest batch/lot is sent back to the producer or processor

It should be noted that the quality assurance (QA) lab is responsible for inputting test results into the traceability system. The producer/processor is not allowed to do this.

When a lab approved harvest/batch lot is ready for packaging the unique identifier number of the harvest/batch lot must be on every retail package created from the lot.

Traceability Software- Commercial vs Government:

Licensees are responsible for submitting reports directly to the state traceability system. They can buy commercial software to automate that but if their commercial software fails, they must manually enter reportable events.

The state government agency that is responsible for policing that state’s commercial Cannabis industry typically contracts with a software company to set up and maintain the state traceability system. Licensees are provided a free web portal for manual record submission. Some states license applicants to pass a test on entering data into the state system before approving their application.

The free web portal is typically clunky and frustrating. If the licensees are permitted to print their own plant tags, the free web portal will issue the unique identifier number for each new plant tag but not the barcode version. The free web portal also lacks a label design feature. The time and energy spent converting numbers to a barcode for easier scanning and custom creating retail package labels may justify paying for commercial software.

Commercial Traceability Software

There are many choices for commercial traceability software. Reputable ones are integrated with the state traceability system. This allows the commercial software to automate all the required record entry as well as provide features to make the licensees’ job much easier. The licensee has a much smoother and more automated experience with all their required records submitted automatically. Plant tags and retail package traceability labels are easily created. Custom business reports help tremendously. Commercial traceability software is focused on the licensee.

Government Traceability Software

METRC, LEAF, and BioTrack THC are industry leaders in government traceability software. However, LEAF and BioTrack THC also offer commercial traceability software packages. LEAF’s commercial product is MJ Freeway. BioTrack THC lets the government customer decide the name of the state software package.

METRC is government facing only. Most states use METRC for their Cannabis traceability system. They do not offer a commercial Cannabis traceability software product. METRC requires licensees to purchase plant tags directly from METRC. This security measure prevents licensees from printing their own plant tags. METRC plant tags come with a unique identifier number, barcode version of that number and an RFID chip. METRC plant tags cost about $.40 each and are not reusable. Notably, California includes the cost of the plant tags in its license fees. This may explain the expensive fee structure in California. METRC’s RFID technology is expensive for the licensee and is not typically used. Most licensees use the barcode feature.


Most states require static and dynamic information on the final retail package.

  • Static — does not change from batch to batch
  • Dynamic — does changes from batch to batch

Static information includes the name/business identifier of the producer/processor, the state required warnings and any state required symbols. Dynamic information includes lab results, pesticide info, solvent info, and the business identifiers of any other licensees that contributed product used in the final retail package.

Printers — Labels and Plant Tags:

There are two types of printers typically used by our customers; Direct thermal and Thermal Transfer.

Direct Thermal

Direct Thermal labels are used for dry retail package labels. The printhead burns the information into the label stock, similar to how a cash register receipt printer works. These labels don’t stand up to moisture very well and the image blurs out, making barcodes unscannable. MainStem’s standard Direct Thermal printer is the Zebra ZD410.

Thermal Transfer

These printers use a wax ribbon. The printhead melts the wax on to the label stock. Thermal Transfer labels stand up well in moist environments and are well suited for plant tags. MainStem’s standard Thermal Transfer printer is the Zebra TLP 2824 Plus.

Important notes!

Thermal Transfer and Direct Thermal each need their own label stock. Direct Thermal stock has a special dye that reacts to heat and Thermal Transfer stock is designed to accept melted wax. If a customer has both kinds of printers it’s important to keep the boxes of blank label rolls separated and/or plainly marked.

Zebra ZD Direct Thermal printers ship with a USB cable.

Zebra TLP printers do not.


Our customers use two types of scanners; 1D and 2D.

1D scanners scan simple bar codes like a grocery store check stand scanner.

2D scanners scan more complex 2D “barcodes” like QR codes and the backs of driver licenses.

  • Cultivators — use 1D barcodes for plant tags.
  • Processors — use 1D barcodes for retail package traceability labels
  • Retailers — use 2D scanners to scan driver licenses at the point of sale.

MainStem customers have a choice between cordless (convenient/higher price) and corded (lower price) models.


In the industry, there are generally use two types of scales; durable industrial benchtop scales and fine jewelry balances.

Harvest and lot scales have an about 5g/.01lb resolution. Retail packaging scales have either 100 milligrams 10-milligram resolution.

The 100mg resolution (0.1g) is only compliant in Alaska, Nevada, Washington, Oklahoma, and Maryland as March 27, 2019. All other states require 10mg/.01g resolution. All of the packaging scales sold on the MainStem Marketplace are high quality so they display an accessory digit, encased in brackets, next to the primary digit. The accessory digit is +/- 5, not NTEP approved and is not considered when choosing scale resolution.

Almost all states require that scales used for commercial purposes must be NTEP (National Type Evaluation Program) approved. NTEP approval is a manufacturing standard. NTEP scales are better built and more durable than non-NTEP scales so they stay spot on (repeatable) for years.


Each of our software partners has a particular line of hardware they like to work with. While some hardware items like Zebra Printers and POS-X Scanners work with pretty much any software, POS systems are software specific. We rely on approved hardware lists from our software partners to make sure our customers get the right products. The short story is that we sell hardware tailored for each software company. If you require a particular item not listed here, reach out and we can help you locate it.

State Specific Labels:

When it comes to labels, each state may or may not have a requires universal symbol or other package markings. We currently offer universal symbol stickers for Oregon and Washington. In addition, we also offer POS labels for Oregon customers. We are working on additional states.

About Mainstem

The MainStem Supply Chain Ecosystem is the ONLY fully integrated B2B procurement solution built to solve complex issues for the cannabis industry. MainStem enables companies to easily source all their supplies while also simplifying the fragmented finance and operations technology ecosystem. With almost a decade of experience in the cannabis industry, MainStem is dedicated to helping cannabis companies grow with robust technology and by partnering closely with cannabis growers, manufacturers and dispensaries. To learn more about the technology solution we offer, click here.

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The MainStem Supply Chain Ecosystem is the ONLY fully integrated B2B procurement software built to solve complex issues for the cannabis industry.We give cannabis operators and suppliers the tools and data to manage their business – all in one place.
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