Medical Marijuana is legal in 19 states — not including Florida. But that hasn’t stopped one Fort Lauderdale tech company from reaping the benefits of the booming cannabis industry. BioTrackTHC, a 6-year-old software firm, devised a comprehensive “seed-to-sale” marijuana inventory program that uses an identification number on barcodes to track marijuana from plant to dispensary.
It started off with only 20 customers, but BioTrackTHC has expanded as one by one, states begin legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. In just a few years, the company has grown to serve 1,800 licensed businesses in 24 states, in addition to D.C. and Canada. They’ve also secured five government contracts in Washington, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and Hawaii. Headquartered in downtown Fort Lauderdale, it’s a cruel irony that they do no business in their home state. But as Amendment 2, which would legalize medical marijuana in Florida, is expected to pass this November, BioTrackTHC’s 60 employees are some of the first in state to step into the potential marijuana industry here.
“We have a lot of pride in our company,” says Patrick Vo, president of BioTrackTHC. “We support intelligent cannabis legislation wherever, in Florida or elsewhere for that matter, and we feel disappointed when smart legislation doesn’t make it.”
About ten years ago, the company started off tracking prescription painkillers. That was during the peak of Florida’s pill mill epidemic. Company founder Dr. Steven Siegel had conceived a program, using patients' fingerprints, to keep abusers from refilling a single prescription multiple times from different doctors. The DEA praised the company for its efficacy.
In 2010, new medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado reached out to BioTrack (in the DEA’s good graces) to create a way of keeping records. Even though medical marijuana was legal under state law, it's technically still illegal under federal law.
That’s when BioTrackTHC switched gears and started tracking marijuana. It starts with assigning each marijuana seed a unique identification number, tacked on as a barcode, RFID, or Bluetooth tag. When the plant is divvied into bud, trim, and waste, another number correlating back to the first is assigned. Yet another number is assigned when it’s converted into a product that could be obtained at a dispensary.
“Tracking cannabis is not the same as tracking other goods,” Vo explains. “We’ve been in the tech space in cannabis for a long time and, as a team, we’ve accumulated a lot of detail and specialized knowledge that is unique to cannabis business operators.”
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Florida almost legalized medical marijuana in 2014. That November, 58 percent of Florida voters supported Amendment 2, a proposed constitutional amendment which would have made medical marijuana legal in Florida. Even though 58 percent of voters were in favor of the amendment, it wasn't enough to pass; the vote was just two points shy of the 60 percent threshold. Now that attitudes are changing and it's an election year, proponents of medical marijuana expect it to pass.
Critics of medical marijuana have expressed concerns that it’ll lead to another problem similar to the pill mill epidemic, but Vo is confident that won’t happen in Florida. “The sky has not fallen over California, Washington, and other states that have legalized cannabis. We’re not seeing a pot mill problem, so to speak,” he says. “Instead, it’s created jobs.”
BioTrackTHC has expanded and has offices in Colorado and Washington, but it’s not the same as working in Fort Lauderdale. “If you mention that you work in the cannabis industry in Colorado or Washington, no one bats an eye,” Vo says. “But standing in line at Starbucks in Fort Lauderdale and people see a cannabis leaf on your lapel—it always turns heads.”
As more and more states pass medical marijuana legislation, BioTrackTHC hopes to open up more offices across the country. They're securing more state and local contracts, too. “As of today, not even half the union has passed medical marijuana,” Vo says. “There’s still a lot of potential in this industry, and we’re looking to add value.”