Medical Marijuana Program Lessons Learned: Smarter Systems (Part Three)

Medical Marijuana is legal in 34 states and the District of Columbia, with legalization being considered in at least a half dozen other states. Despite the uptick in legalization, expertise within this nascent field remains scarce. Harnessing our experience leading five state medical marijuana programs, we’ve unpacked the actionable insights that other states can apply to their respective program journeys. In this installment, we explore the importance of data and systems.

One of the most vital tools of a medical marijuana program is the seed-to-sale system.  This system provides the ability to track a product from the time it is planted to its point of sale to a patient, and produces rich data used to support product recalls, investigating adverse events, detecting diversion, tracking inventory, producing sales reports, and more.

How can states approach seed-to-sale system implementation as a program differentiator?

An early focus on system requirements

As the marijuana industry is maturing, many seed-to-sale tracking systems are emerging.  States should note that most seed-to-sale systems are only configurable to a certain extent; thus, states will need to select a system that can accommodate their mandatory requirements, that will ultimately scale to fit their program. Organizations should start with the end in mind, first identifying critical outcomes and using those to drive requirements definition. The key to a successful seed-to-sale system is to invest time upfront to understand the solution and thoroughly evaluate whether that solution aligns to your state program’s needs. The lowest cost system may seem appealing, yet it may not be effective long-term. States that rigorously focus on requirements prior to selecting a system save resources by avoiding the need for changes after the system has been implemented. What are a few of the realities that make it critical to understand system configurability up-front?


  • Change orders: North Highland has seen state regulators spend significant time and money on change orders to address a variety of issues, frequently waiting long periods of time or having the vendor unable to fully address the issue because of a lack of system configurability
  • Historical data: Once the system is implemented and live, states may not be able to correct historical data that fails to meet changing data entry or data integrity requirements

Delivering rigorous user training

Another challenge North Highland has observed in seed-to-sale implementations is a lack of training for users, including regulators, medical marijuana growers, and dispensaries. Omitting training can lead to poor data if users are inconsistent in how they enter data and record transactions. In addition, understanding how users are trained to complete system processes ensures that regulators can hold growers and dispensaries accountable, providing the ability to detect discrepancies and programmatically enforce compliance issues that may not be able to be enforced systematically.

The power and potential of data

One specific pain point for states is in accessing and interpreting data. There is often confusion around what data elements are stored and how, the definitions for those data elements, and how they can be used for reporting.  Without the knowledge of how data is stored in the system’s backend, it can seem difficult to understand why a simple request may not be feasible.

Many states miss opportunities to unlock the insights from seed-to-sale data for smarter decisions. There are many aspects of a program that can benefit from greater transparency in data and reporting. Several of these key opportunities include:



  • Using data to identify compliance risk for medical marijuana growers and dispensaries
  • Analyzing data to understand common dosages, strains and product types for patients with various medical conditions
  • Aggregating and reporting on data as a communications tool to spread awareness about the program, and to educate and engage stakeholders

Seed-to-sale systems hold transformative potential for state medical marijuana programs – powered by data-driven insights. By focusing on user training and up-front requirements, states can be better positioned for successful program outcomes.

In the fourth and final installment of our series, we’ll offer insight into best practices for compliance program design.

Click here to read parts one, two, and four of our series.