In the weeds

by MM&D Staff

Epilepsy, depression, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and brain injuries are just five medical conditions out of dozens that Health Canada says benefit from medical marijuana. In some of these cases, it can make the difference between life and death.

When the Canadian government authorized the use of medical marijuana, it needed strict regulations to ensure compliance among citizens, producers, and law enforcement. In turn, medical marijuana producers know there is no room for error when making critical business decisions around data and regulatory compliance.

Aphria is one of Canada’s leading licensed medical marijuana producers. Health Canada regulates the Canadian medical marijuana industry under the “Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations” (ACMPR), formerly known as the “Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations” (MMPR). These strict regulations put pressure on licensed producers to adhere to stringent security, manufacturing, record-keeping, and quality standards.
Every licensed producer must take proper measures to ensure they track every aspect of the operation for mandated and frequent compliance reporting and inspection. If licensed producers fail to do this, they risk losing their license to cultivate and sell medical marijuana.

Every plant receives a barcode, which is then tracked from the greenhouse to the end user.

Aphria needed a way to track marijuana and marijuana-derived products from seed all the way to patient delivery. Initially, Aphria tracked its operations with pen, paper and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The system lacked efficiency and added tremendous risk for errors. Aphria knew this would need to change since Health Canada has high regulatory standards and conducts frequent inspections, often every month.

“Health Canada pulls a patient record and asks us to show all of the paperwork, including where the inventory came from and where the plants came from. In the end, they need to see the paper trail,” Aphria’s co-chair and founder John Cervini said.

Aphria needed a way to ensure data integrity and regulatory compliance, as well as improve efficiency in its large and expanding medical marijuana growing operation.

Aphria decided to implement the Ample Organics enterprise resource planning (ERP) seed-to-sale system which utilizes Zebra hardware for a complete end-to-end solution to enable easier compliance with the Health Canada regulations. The end-to-end solution encompasses inventory control and traceability, customer relationship management, logistics, electronic payment processing, and secure e-commerce.

Ample Organics was founded in 2014 and has become a Canadian leader in seed-to-sale software. It offers the most widely adopted cannabis software platform in Canada and has begun to explore expansion opportunities in new jurisdictions around the world.

Zebra barcodes are the starting point for the plant-to-patient marijuana journey. Each plant receives its own barcode for identification through the propagation, cultivation, and harvesting process. Once the plant is harvested, the barcode follows the plant material through the entire facility as it is trimmed, dried, packaged, and lab-tested. The Ample Organics seed-to-sale system keeps a detailed record and history of every single gram in real-time.

The system functions with the help of Zebra products like the MC3200 mobile computer, ZT220 industrial printer, GK420D and TLP2824+ label printers, and ZXP Series 1 card printer for patient IDs. When it came to selecting a hardware partner, Zebra Technologies was the natural fit for Ample Organics.

“We needed enterprise-grade equipment that could stand up to the rigors of a greenhouse where you are dealing with dirt, water, and a concrete floor,” said John Prentice, CEO of Ample Organics.

“We knew we needed to quickly generate all of these inventory tags and barcodes to scan contextually and create efficiencies for employees. The only way to do that was with Zebra Technologies. We never looked anywhere else. We wouldn’t have the industry-leading software solution we have without Zebra standing behind us.”

When a patient order comes in through customer service or online via the Ample Organics eCommerce portal, the Zebra MC3200 mobile computers help employees find, pick, label, and pack each order efficiently while automating many compliance related tasks.

“They are picking orders right off the MC3200 mobile computer in our bottle inventory and getting that prescription ready to dispense to the patient,” Cervini said.

“When they are filling those bottles, they are inputting that material into the MC3200 and a label is printed to go on the bottle to make sure it’s all tied together. It works full-circle on everything it touches and it is extremely accurate.”

All of the data is collected and stored in real-time within the Ample Organics system. This is essential since Health Canada performs such frequent inspections. With the data collected in the Ample Organics system, Aphria is confident when these targeted and random inspections occur.

“The overall efficiency has been very good,” Cervini said.

“As the call centre puts an order in or someone submits an order online, the orders come up immediately. It’s very easy for staff to locate and fill that order as well. They see inventory levels right away which helps with production planning. There are a lot of visibility and efficiency gains that were inherent in the implementation of this solution.”

With Ample and Zebra, Aphria achieved data integrity, improved worker efficiency and ensured regulatory compliance. Aphria no longer needs to worry about regulatory compliance because they track inventory in real-time.

“We have real-time data regarding our inventory including where our product is and the status of all parts of our inventory in real time,” Cervini said.

“It allows us to have that visibility…a real-time snapshot of our business at any given time so we can make better business decisions.”

The Ample Organics ERP software, coupled with the Zebra hardware, created a system of checks and balances through the entire marijuana journey: from seed to plant to harvest to patient. It allows Aphria to be confident in its tracking system for record keeping while reducing the burden of compliance and improving operational efficiency.

Aphria considers the Ample Organics and Zebra solution the “backbone” of its operation. It is also one of the reasons behind future expansion.

“We have 45,000 square feet of marijuana growing, and we’re expanding to 100,000 square feet,” Cervini said.

“In the next couple years, we expect to expand to 200,000 or 300,000 square feet. We are in a very high growth market, and we have a deep commitment to automating our processes to maximize results.”