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Why QR codes are seeing a resurgence in the cannabis world

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
By Tracy Damon EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

With all the new technology available today, why are some states reverting to older methods when it comes to the packaging and labeling of legalized marijuana and CBD products? Specifically, QR (Quick Response) codes, or other scannable codes, which are now being required by several states on the packages that marijuana or CBD products come in.

QR codes are those two dimensional black and white square labels you occasionally see on products or advertising materials. They were invented in 1994 for use in automotive manufacturing before finding use in other industries, like advertising. The trend hit the peak of popularity around 2010 – when smartphone adoption really took off – before gradually fading away, until recently.

When scanned with a smartphone, QR codes redirect users to a website, social media site, or an app download page. There, consumers can find information on cannabis or CBD products that is required to be disclosed by certain states, such as batch identification numbers, batch dates, expiration dates, batch size, total quantity produced, ingredients used, and any certificates of analysis from third party labs.

The goal of these codes is to provide information to the public that will help consumers make informed decisions about the product they are purchasing.

So far, Utah, Indiana and Oregon all require QR or other scannable codes on their cannabis and/or CBD packaging. More states are expected to follow suit in the near future.

While scannable codes are not currently required in Washington and are not even under discussion at this point for the near future, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Control Board does currently require much of the same information to be included on packaging. The WSLCB allows different formats though.

“Bar code scanners are not required. What is required per 314-55-105 WAC is the lot number of the product – the unique identifier number generated by the board’s traceability system,” said Brian Smith, communications director for the WSLCB. “This must be the same number that appears on the transport manifest. Licensees may use a barcode if they choose to though.”

Accompanying materials must also be provided along with marijuana products in Washington, or at least made available to the consumer, according to Smith. Among those materials must be a statement disclosing all pesticides applied to the marijuana plants and growing medium during production, or the base plant used to create a concentrate or the extract added to infused products. A list disclosing all of the chemicals, compounds, additives, thickening agents, terpenes, or other substances added to any marijuana concentrate during or after production must also be accessible.

Washington companies can decide on their own how to do this but some options include using a web address printed on the label, writing it all out, or using a scannable code. Given how much room that information can take up, it’s understandable why some companies would opt for a code that can be quickly scanned to take people elsewhere.

This is one reason QR and other interactive codes may be making a comeback.

While convenient, there were some key reasons why QR codes initially almost disappeared. Originally, they were often slow at transferring users to target sites. Earlier iPhones didn’t have built-in QR code readers. With newer phones, Apple and Android have both enabled the camera to read codes so there is no need to download a third party app in order to use them.

While many of us haven’t used a QR code in approximately a decade, they are becoming useful again as a quick way to convey information, especially in a hands-free format. In today’s pandemic society, many people prefer not to touch a package if possible but can get complete information on a product just by scanning a code. If you find a product you like, QR codes can make it easier to find it again in the future by allowing customers to re-order the product by scanning the code and going to a website or to sign up for loyalty plans or even watch videos on the most effective way to use a product.

But will they stand the test of time in the cannabis industry? QR code payment options are currently being rolled out in many countries that could not only make it easier to find out exactly what you are smoking or eating, but also to pay for it without using cash or a credit card.

Tracy Damon is a Spokane-based freelancer who has been writing professionally for 20 years. She has been covering i502 issues since recreational cannabis became legal in Washington.

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