Cannabis Fingerprinting

by | Oct 5, 2020

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

As the cannabis industry expands, so too do the issues with compliance and consistency. More producers, cultivators, and breeders mean an ever-expanding number of cultivars and variations of those cultivars. Legal markets have attempted to put layers of regulations, reporting, and labeling requirements to standardize and legitimize the legal markets. But are these regulations working?

It feels like a new idea launches every few months, proposing a solution to the ongoing problem of consistency and compliance. Thus far, these new technologies and tracking systems have failed to change the market in a meaningful way.

Here we explore a new proposal, The Purity-IQ Cannabis Fingerprint™, and other systems currently in circulation.

The Problem

For the consumer, the ultimate issue at stake in the global cannabis industry is consistency. The cannabis sector is trying to fit into expectations borrowed from consumer goods and pharmaceuticals.

So, while a Coca-Cola bought in Japan is the same product purchased in the United States, this is not the case with cannabis. One producer's “Gelato” will inevitably appear different, test differently, and may even have a slightly different genetic fingerprint than another's.

Furthermore, as a formerly illicit market seeking to build trust, legitimacy, and safety standards, the other problem is tracing and tracking. Guaranteeing that the product has followed all legal protocols from seed to sale has become the mandate of regulations. Nearly a decade on, it has failed to accomplish this effectively.

The Proposed Solution

On August 24, 2020, Bruker announced a new initiative, in partnership with Purity-IQ, called The Purity-IQ Cannabis Fingerprint™. Bruker's proposal would see two technologies combine to improve traceability, identification, and overall compliance within Canada's medical cannabis landscape. Bruker brings nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)-based screening technology to the table, and Purity-IQ is a global expert in genomics.

According to the press release, “Identifying the genomic profile and chemical compounds in a cannabis cultivar is the key to providing consistent quality and dosing assurance.” Bruker and Purity-IQ will use genetic testing to confirm cultivar identity and heredity, with an added layer of testing using NMR to assess the chemical makeup.

They propose to create a Purity-IQ Global Cannabis Registry and a brand new Cannabis Authenticity and Purity Standards (CAPS). Should the industry buy into this new concept and compliance tracker, Terry Dennis, Chief Marketing Officer at Purity-IQ, believes that “CAPS recognition will identify and differentiate products, build intellectual property, ensure authenticity, drive confidence in product quality claims, allow access to new markets, and protect brand reputation.”

The Ongoing Battle in Cannabis for a True Tracking and ID System

The Purity-IQ Cannabis Fingerprint will face an uphill battle when it comes to industry-wide adoption. Issues with compliance and product consistency have been subjects of hot debate within the sector since its inception. It's why Canada created a national licensing, reporting, and tracking system for the recreational market, and states like California now require all cannabis products to include an information-encoded QR code on the packaging. 

The battle for an effective and accurate compliance system has launched an entire ecosystem of options. Chain-of-custody documents trace a cannabis product from the farm, through processing, and finally to the retailer. Cannabis consumers have also come to rely on a Certificate of Analysis to demonstrate chemical composition and purity. In an attempt to weed out disreputable companies, many markets require one or both of these documentations. Unfortunately, these documents have failed to accomplish this goal.

Cannabis Fingerprinting Not the Only Solution for Compliance and Consistency

Purity-IQ and Bruker are stepping into the compliance debate because a Certificate of Analysis, Chain of Custody, and connected QR codes don't completely solve the issue of traceability and consistency. But this isn't the only proposal out there.

For starters, CBD Global Extracts launched the Cannabis Transparency Standards™ (CTS) in 2014. The CTS is a searchable database that is open to the public. It hosts all relevant product documentation such as Certificate of Analysis, Certificate of Cultivation, Cultivation Seed Lot, Material Safety Data Sheets, and more. The CTS seal seeks to work through some of the loopholes of the current system “by utilizing the guidance of academic research and established scientific protocols.” The CTS ensures clean and sustainable farming practices and state-of-the-art analytics and testing procedures.

In 2018, just before the Canadian government launched recreational sales, there was also significant media attention given to blockchain possibilities. Although the Canadian government failed to get on board with the idea back in 2018, several companies have launched blockchain systems to compile genome data, to track and trace throughout the supply chain.

TruTrace Technologies is just one of these companies. TruTrace developed StrainSecure to compile three key data points within the blockchain: test results, DNA-based product validation, and intellectual property protection. In California, this resulted in a connected QR code on a cannabis-infused product. They have also partnered with MileHigh Labs in Colorado and Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada for other innovative pilot programs designed to improve cannabis identification and traceability.

The Real Problem: Industry-wide Adoption

The current compliance and tracking systems used across legal markets have failed to weed out dishonest producers. The burden often falls on retailers and consumers to sort out the good products from the bad.

There have been dozens of innovative solutions pitched at this point, whether it be The Purity-IQ Cannabis Fingerprint™, the CTS database built on scientific protocols, or the many blockchain proposals. The ongoing problems with tracking, tracing, and compliance could quickly be solved based on any of these options — but only if the entire industry chooses to adopt one of them wholeheartedly. Until regulators pull the trigger to implement one of these proposals market-wide, the sector will continue under a patchwork of options.