Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Weed Ed | BLOCKStrain wants to revolutionise Jamaica’s cannabis industry - Company creates the world’s first digital weed ledger using blockchain technology

Published:Monday | March 4, 2019 | 12:16 AMLeVaughn Flynn/Contributor

Imagine you went to the pharmacy and purchased two identical packs of painkillers.

The first tablet worked to expectation. It cleared up your headache in the suggested time without making you drowsy. The next day, you have another headache and you take the second tablet you purchased, which you believed to be identical to the first. This one, however, took two hours to get rid of your migraine and also left you feeling woozy afterwards.

Not very reliable medicine, is it?

Medical marijuana patients around the world grapple with this reality all the time. The inconsistency stems mainly from the identification method for weed, which is based on strain names, a great marketing communication tool but unreliable in truly defining the plant and its effects.

A Blue Dream grown in California and in Jamaica will yield very different chemical profiles based on the light intensity, soil composition and other factors in the environment. Studies have even shown chemical differences in strains grown just a few miles apart. To compound things, some strains even maintain their original name after crossbreeding with other species, further misrepresenting the parent plant.

Only genetic evidence can guarantee a customer that the Blue Dream will always deliver the experience a patient is seeking. As such, a Canadian company called BLOCKStrain has created a simple platform to store, manage, and share the plant’s vital data.

“Strain names are not reliable. Genetics determine the chemical profile and this provides better information for cultivators and consumers,” said Robert Galarza, CEO of BLOCKStrain Technology Corp.

He said the platform is built around the two main principles of transparency and testing integrity. Along with a genetic bank, BLOCKStrain also integrates test results for quality and safety, and data on cultivation methods. The information is then stored on the company’s cloud-based platform using blockchain technology, the same technology behind cryptocurrency. This digital platform provides an immutable record of data that can be shared with anyone.

Galarza and his business partner Tommy Stephenson have been working with Fortune 500 companies for most of their careers. He said the cannabis industry is going through what many other industries experienced early in their development.

“There are issues with interconnectivity in the cannabis industry, and the industry needs data-driven solutions,” he said. “The key to making this work efficiently is to build a framework of collaboration between all of the stakeholders. The more we can reduce manual administrative processes and paperwork, the more efficient we can make the system, and BLOCKStrain is what connects all the pieces together.”

Galarza said his team plans to visit Jamaica in a few weeks to meet with key stakeholders to explore the opportunities and benefits BLOCKStrain can offer to the local industry.

HOW IT WORKS

Joining the platform is made easy and it also integrates seamlessly with third-party track and trace software. Upon signing up for the service, breeders or companies would need to integrate their inventory on the BLOCKStrain platform. They would also be required to submit test results for genetic and chemical profiling. From there, they can manage their data and access and publish results any time.

This process comes with two main benefits, the biggest being intellectual property protection.

“We provide breeders (and cultivators to some extent) with some level of intellectual property protection. By utilising a secure blockchain ledger, we give breeders an immutable record of their whole genome sequence to provide some recorded evidence of their ownership. Furthermore, our system is built with full AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities in order to link plant characteristics with their genetics, thus allowing verified breeders to connect with one another.”

For regulatory bodies, BLOCKStrain can play a pivotal role in preventing infiltration from the illegal market into the regulated market.

“Genetics don’t lie, and the only way to enforce a regulatory framework is to first identify what ‘strains’ are legal and which are not,” said Galarza. “We can provide regulators with real-time visibility over the quality of the products in their jurisdiction, as well as a tool to distinguish between legal and illegal cannabis.”

On October 17, the day Canada federally legalised recreational cannabis use, BLOCKStrain and WeedMD, a Canadian producer and distributor of medical cannabis, completed the first cannabis strain validation registration programme. This allows WeedMD to capture and manage all molecular and chemical data on the plant. Best of all, says Galarza, consumers have access to all this information at the point of purchase.

“When a customer walks into a dispensary, they can pick up the product with the BLOCKStrain Verified Seal and QR Code, open the camera on their smartphone and pull up real-time test results, certificates of authenticity, and any product information the producer would like to showcase,” he said.

As Jamaica looks to position itself in the global cannabis space, Galarza suggested that the country be smart and strategic with how it establishes its brand. He reasoned that in the coming years, Colombia will be one of the largest markets for production, the US, once they federally legalise cannabis, will lead on branding and marketing, and Canada will be a leader in medicinal treatments.

“As for Jamaica, I see the country creating high-end, quality varieties of cannabis. The country has the right climate and soil and a history of cultivating quality cannabis. It’s important that that is protected and technology should be leveraged to help achieve that,” he said.