Maryland’s cannabis-tracking software bogged down over weekend, halting sales

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A software system that Maryland’s tightly regulated medical cannabis industry uses to track purchases grew so overwhelmed with patient traffic on Friday and Saturday that dispensaries could not make any sales for hours at a time, the state’s regulatory cannabis agency confirmed Tuesday morning.

The interruptions happened on Friday and Saturday, said Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) spokeswoman Jennifer White.

The issue was with Metrc, a cannabis inventory-tracking platform used in numerous states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana. Dispensaries rely upon the system to track inventory.

In Maryland, a medical cannabis patient’s certified doctor or provider prescribes a limit for how much flower, oil or other concentrates and items a patient can buy every 30 days. Until recently, patients were unable to check their cannabis balance, so to speak, independently of their provider or a dispensary linked up to Metrc.

So, the MMCC asked Metrc two weeks ago to install a function to allow patients to track their monthly purchases, similarly to how you might log on and check your bank account. While helpful to patients, the influx of web traffic overwhelmed the system, White said.

“During peak times, when folks were going into the dispensaries and transactions were being made, and folks were going in from their computer and logging into their account…it was slowing down the system.”

White compared it to how Ticketmaster can become bogged down by large amounts of web traffic when tickets for a popular concert go on sale. “There’s just a barrage of inquiries, and so you get put in a holding pattern,” she said. “In some cases, that holding pattern was just indefinite.”

She noted that Metrc “never went down,” and “there was never a complete shutoff.”

Max Davidson, an assistant general manager at Your Farmacy in Lutherville and the executive director of the Maryland Patient Rights Association, said his dispensary was unable to serve patients for two hours on Friday morning, and again for several hours on Saturday. On the second day, their call volume was 10 times the norm due to patients asking if they were simply open, he said.

“Dispensaries were sending out text messages to their email and phone number lists saying they were closed,” Davidson said. (Your Farmacy didn’t shut down, he noted, and resumed serving patients when Metrc was back up.)

As for the patients? “People were pissed,” he said. “They couldn’t get their medicine. Some people drove an hour to some places to be turned away.”

Maryland has more than 27,000 certified patients, with another 11,000 or so registered but awaiting certification, according to figures provided by MMCC. Baltimore County (6,116), Anne Arundel County (3,972) and Montgomery County (6,185) have the largest patient populations. Baltimore City ranks fourth with 3,850.

White said the MMCC asked Metrc “to put a temporary hold” on the function allowing patients to log on, which “freed up the system to do what it was originally meant to do, which was inventory tracking” for dispensaries.

On Tuesday, MMCC Executive Director Joy Strand issued an apology letter about the whole ordeal.

“We recognize the frustration this has caused and we are working very hard to make sure that this does not happen again,” Strand wrote. She later added: “MMCC understands the importance of patients being able to obtain their medication. We value your relationship with the MMCC and we are committed to providing the highest level of customer service.”

Metrc is now working on a way to allow patients to check their consumption without placing as large of a strain on the inventory system, White said. “We are not going to implement that until we are certain that it’s not going to impact the system in a way that slows it down.”

Strand wrote that “there is no projected release date” for those changes to the Metrc system, as of Tuesday.

A Florida-based technology company, Franwell, operates Metrc. Reached by email, a rep for the company declined to comment and referred Baltimore Fishbowl to the state commission.

Davidson said the MMCC was responsive to his dispensary’s feedback throughout the weekend, and isn’t responsible for the software issues. “Realistically, at the end of the day, it’s Metrc and Franwell who are at fault here.”

White said Metrc “worked with us closely all weekend” to resolve the issues.

Software hang-ups have affected dispensaries’ ability to serve patients at other points, White noted, including on Memorial Day Weekend—”it was a much shorter period, and again, it was a volume issue”—and on another occasion during the winter. The latter example was tied to issues with dispensaries’ chosen point-of-sale software, rather than the Metrc system, she said.

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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