Drugs

How a Giant Medical Marijuana Dispensary Handles Its Huge Stash of Weed

Tracing the journey of one pound of bud, from purchasing to the patient.

Photo Credit: RomboStudio / Shutterstock.com

The following first appeared in Cannabis Now Magazine

Every single gram of bud, drop of tincture, crumb of medible, bottle of soda, swab of topical and grain of concentrate to pass through the doors at Harborside Health Center, (the self-proclaimed largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world located in Oakland, California), starts at one place: the purchasing department. In fact, even this exhaustive list doesn’t cover the full range of products available at Harborside, but since flowers predominate the selection, this story follows the trail of a pound of bud on its journey through the building, from purchasing to inventory, on to processing, back to inventory and ultimately to sales, where patients can browse the final product.

Before it leaves the purchasing room, the cannabis must pass a rigorous examination including QuantaCann analysis to determine THC/CBD levels and moisture content. While waiting for this report to come back, the purchasing agent (PA) conducts a visual inspection using a 60X scope to examine trichome maturity and to double-check for molds, mildew or fungus. If deemed acceptable and desirable, payment terms are negotiated and the pound passes its first quality checkpoint.

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Here the tracking system begins. The PA weighs the pound and marks it to the gram; then the pound is weighed all over again by the administration associate (AA). Any discrepancy starts the process over again. Both the PA and AA mark their measurements and initials on the Bulk Processing Sheet (BPS), a form which stays with the pound all the way through until processing. Before leaving purchasing, a third inventory worker triple-checks the weight and adds his or her initials to the BPS. Thus every pound is weighed at least three times before it even leaves the first room.

If everything checks out correctly, the pound moves on to the holiest of holies: the vault. Here the nation’s largest dispensary can keep enough flowers and concentrates stocked to last its patients for several weeks, although turnover usually happens much more rapidly than that. Inventory associates restock the vault every morning, usually adding five to eight different flowers and a similar amount of concentrates, in a process called “building the board”. Besides ensuring a steady supply of so-called “anchor strains” (including Grandaddy PurpleOG KushRed Congolese and Sour Diesel), the management always strives to stock a balance of indica, sativa and hybrid strains combined with a robust selection of sun grown. Every morning at opening the inventory team decides what to send to processing, based on restock needs as well as the shelf life of the vault’s inventory. When chosen for transfer, the pound is stacked on a cart and wheeled down the hall. The Processing Manager (PM) immediately weighs the pound and adds her initials to the BPS; now the pound has passed four independent audits, for those keeping score.

If all the weights agree the PM assigns projects. All Harborside processors are trained to weigh all types of products but some specialize in one area or another, like oils or hash. The processor breaks the pound down into grams, eighths and ounces, removing any buds smaller than a nickel and relegating them to the bargain bin. Any extra stems or shake are removed and separately weighed. Every step of processing is recorded on the BPS sheet, which the PM now quintuple-checks, to ensure that every ounce, eighth, gram, small bud, stem and leaf weight add up to the first weight recording at purchasing. Video cameras, both visible and hidden, monitor every step of the process. Once all the weights have been verified, the PM signs the pound off to the inventory manager, who places every part of the original pound into a deep bin and returns it to the vault. Periodically the inventory staff will conduct a “cycle count” to independently verify the weight of every bag in the tin and double-check the weight against the BPS record – weigh-in number six in the pound’s journey.

The last stop is the sales counter. Every morning each of the seven medicine cabinets is filled with bins containing the same amount of units. As they run low during the day inventory will refill them from the stock. If no more of a strain is available they will then replace it with another strain. The sales counter is also covered extensively with cameras and is under observation from the safety staff throughout the day. As items are sold a computer-powered POS system subtracts them from inventory so staff can verify inventory against sales at any time. The pound’s exhaustive journey ends when patients make their purchases.

The result is a historical shrinkage rate of only 1.5 percent – not a perfect performance, but nevertheless a sharp rebuke to those who claim that dispensaries inevitably lead to large-scale diversion to illegal markets. The honest and hardworking employees at Harborside, meanwhile, are striving to make an already impressive shrinkage rate even better.

Written for issue 8 of Cannabis Now Magazine.

Rick Pfrommer started as an intern for NORML in 1987 at the tender age of 19. He met Jack Herer soon after and helped co-found Cannabis Action Network (CAN) with Debby Goldsberry. The two of them ran Hemp Tour for over five years. After CAN he moved to Hawaii and learned to cultivate cannabis. Returning in 1997, he worked for several years selling organic nutrients and cultivating cannabis. In 2004 he moved to the Bay Area and was General Manager of the Berkeley Patients Group for two years before helping to found Harborside Health Center in 2006. From Purchasing Manager, General Manager and now Director of Education, he has helped Harborside grow and become the world class institution that it is today. Pfrommer is a regular contributor to Cannabis Now Magazine.