Pennsylvania marijuana operators vexed by state-mandated software

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Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana retailers recorded more than $1.3 billion in sales last year despite hiccups and outages that operators say could be avoided if state-mandated track-and-trace software worked properly – or, at least, the way it’s supposed to work by law.

While MJ Freeway merged with BioTrack last month under the new Alleaves brand, MJ Freeway continues to be Pennsylvania’s exclusive provider under a 2017 contract.

But according to frustrated industry operators and at least one state lawmaker, MJ Freeway does not allow two-way API (application programming interface) with other state-approved software programs commonly used by marijuana businesses to manage inventory and sales.

That means the two software programs can’t communicate directly – and, as a result, businesses must manually enter lab-testing, point-of-sale and other data into MJ Freeway.

That time-consuming and error-prone extra task could be completed instantly with a functional two-way API, said Meredith Buettner, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, an industry advocacy organization.

And if MJ Freeway suffers an outage, as it did last September, all business is stopped.

‘The API doesn’t work’

“When we talk to folks like Dutchie or I Heart Jane or other software providers … they very clearly say the API doesn’t work,” Buettner told MJBizDaily.

“A lot of this would be less infuriating if we did have a two-way API connection and the ability to serve patients offline.”

Worse still is that the Pennsylvania health department has been required to implement “the full integration of API” under 2021 law but has yet to do so, according to state Rep. Joe McAndrew, a Democrat who represents Pittsburgh’s northeastern suburbs.

“I’m a young man who understands technology a little bit,” the 33-year-old lawmaker told MJBizDaily during a recent phone interview.

“For one company in this space to have the keys to the castle … it doesn’t make sense to me.”

In May, McAndrew introduced a resolution in the state Legislature that, if passed, would direct the health department “to prepare a written review” of its contract with MJ Freeway within 30 days.

The resolution also would instruct the agency to “integrate API technology as required” under state law.

MJ Freeway vendor issues

As of now, the health department has approved seven software vendors for state-regulated medical marijuana companies to use.

However, not all of them can communicate with MJ Freeway, according to McAndrew’s resolution.

Further muddying the situation: It’s unclear which platforms can interact with the state-mandated software.

Asked to comment on the situation earlier this month, Alleaves Chief Operating Officer Moe Afaneh directed MJBizDaily‘s questions to the state.

Health department spokesperson Neil Ruhland said via email that the agency’s “top priority in administering all its data systems is ensuring proper guardrails are in place to protect patient data.”

“To clarify, Pennsylvania already utilizes a seed-to-sale solution that includes some (sic) application programming interfaces (APIs) with Medical Marijuana Organizations (MMOs),” he wrote.

“Our medical marijuana program is always open to system improvements and is committed to finding ways to adjust the available APIs to balance the needs of MMOs while still protecting patient information.”

Ruhland did not respond to follow-up queries, nor did he identify which vendors have a functioning two-way API with MJ Freeway.

MJ Freeway replacement?

Pennsylvania is shopping around for a replacement to MJ Freeway, according to a public notice posted on a government website last November, but the status of that search is unclear.

Ruhland did not provide details about the search, when asked.

MJ Freeway’s initial five-year contract – valued at $10.3 million, according to reports – already was renewed once, in April 2022.

That contract also allows MJ Freeway to charge medical marijuana licensees an additional $80,000 per year for “support,” according to Grown In, a Chicago-based cannabis industry newsletter.

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Adult-use proposals

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are mulling three separate proposals for adult-use legalization.

Legalizing recreational marijuana would prompt the state’s cannabis industry to reach $2.8 billion in annual sales, according to an estimate released this week by advocacy group Legalization PA.

That underscores the need for a functioning seed-to-sale platform that communicates with other software, according to marijuana advocates.

“We could have addressed this sooner instead of having the last few years of catastrophic outrages,” Buettner said.

Chris Roberts can be reached at