Marijuana tracking concept earns kudos and complaints in Colorado

Author: Marianne Goodland - January 16, 2018 - Updated: January 19, 2018

Different types of marijuana sit on display. (AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday expressed support for an idea being floated by a bipartisan group of state senators to add tracking measures to marijuana plants.

But the tracking idea isn’t exactly winning support from some in the marijuana industry, according to The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

The Sentinel reported Tuesday that the CEO of Grand Junction-based Source Certain International believes the bill “effectively cuts out his and other companies from consideration because their technologies don’t require scanning agents.”

Under Senate Bill 18-029, Colorado State University-Pueblo would be tasked with developing marijuana tracking technology through an agent or chemical that can then be scanned by a device.

The bill’s sponsors are Sens. Kent Lambert, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Leroy Garcia, a Democrat from Pueblo.

Hickenlooper weighed in on the tracking concept in a morning news conference Tuesday, telling reporters he had heard about isotopes that could be added to marijuana plants, and that tracking the plants would give law enforcement a leg up on finding Colorado cannabis in the gray and black markets.

Those markets are a growing concern for Colorado lawmakers and law enforcement. Last year lawmakers passed a bill setting up grant programs to help local governments deal with court and other costs related to dealing with the problem.

The marijuana gray market refers to loopholes in both Amendment 20, which authorized medical marijuana, and Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana. The loopholes allow for large amounts of marijuana to be grown outside the laws’ intent.

Amendment 20 allowed for up to 99 plants to be grown by patients and caregivers in a residential setting, but the law didn’t provide a way for state agencies to regulate those grows, according to a fact sheet from the governor’s office. Amendment 64 allows for personal grows of up to six plants. Consumers have banded together in “cooperatives” for more plants, but state law didn’t set up a way to regulate those home grows.

The black market refers to illegally grown and sold marijuana, sometimes by organized crime.

Glenn McClellan of Source Certain International told the Sentinel that the bill limits the tracking agent to just one kind of technology. The company tracks “agricultural and mineral products without using any agent or additive,” instead relying on “forensic-like techniques that profile a plant or mineral based on its natural habitat, such as soil conditions.”

Hickenlooper said he attended an energy conference at Stanford University shortly after recreational marijuana was approved by voters. He said he spoke to a professor who explained one form of tracking technology — oxygen isotopes — that could be put into water. Any plant that ingests the water would absorb the isotope and then be easily trackable. Hickenlooper said he found the idea interesting, because it would allow “real-time tracking” of all the marijuana in the state, and to know where the gray and black markets are operating.

SB 29 is not yet calendared for its first hearing; it has been assigned to the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.