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Medical marijuana ‘POS’ software crashes, preventing sales to sick patients in Pennsylvania

The software system, called MJ Freeway, has a chronic reputation for crashing. One dispensary owner said retailers lost millions in sales. But more importantly patients could not buy their medicines.

A marijuana bud is seen before harvesting. Medical marijuana patients across Pennsylvania couldn’t buy medicines Tuesday after chronically faulty software system, MJ Freeway crashed.
A marijuana bud is seen before harvesting. Medical marijuana patients across Pennsylvania couldn’t buy medicines Tuesday after chronically faulty software system, MJ Freeway crashed.Read moreAndrew Selsky / AP

Medical marijuana patients across the state couldn’t buy medicines Tuesday due to an update in a tracking software system that’s supposed to track sales, not prevent them.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health requires all marijuana transactions to be processed through a software system called MJ Freeway. The seed-to-sale tracking software has been prone to chronic glitches since the state signed an exclusive $11 million contract with the Colorado-based company.

Dispensaries from Philadelphia to Erie reported Wednesday that they could not conduct sales for hours on Tuesday. Many sent out text alerts and emails to their clients, posted social media warnings, and apologized on Instagram for shutting down early.

Growers also could not ship marijuana products to dispensaries because they could not fill out manifests on their computers. Shipments that did make it to dispensaries could not be sold because they could not be logged in the MJ Freeway system by the retailers.

MJ Freeway spokesperson Jeannette Horton said the software, officially called Leaf Data Systems, was down sporadically for a total of an hour and a half.

“It may have felt longer because it was intermittent,” Horton said. “We’re very apologetic for the issues they experienced. Today, we’re hearing it’s all been resolved.”

MJ Freeway not only tracks every step of the cultivation-to-retail process, it also can raise an early red flag when there are supply-chain disruptions or potential health concerns with marijuana products. The system has been upgraded during the last year, and had been stable with no reported outages for many months, Horton said.

On Tuesday, however, some patients drove as long as an hour to their regular cannabis outlets, only to be told to return another day.

“We turned away literally hundreds of patients yesterday,” said Christina Visco, president of TerraVida Holistic Centers, which operates three dispensaries in the Philadelphia suburbs. “The system was down all morning, came back up for a couple of hours, then crashed again.”

Visco said customers were allowed into the dispensaries to place orders for future pickup.

“I had product I couldn’t sell to anyone yesterday," she said. “It never left my vault.”

Patients lined up 30 deep this morning outside her stores in Malvern, Abington, and Sellersville, Visco said.

Last year, dispensaries coped with MJ Freeway outages by recording sales on paper or noting sales on spreadsheets. The state Department of Health halted that practice, claiming that marijuana could be too easily diverted to underground markets that way.

It is unclear whether the state has penalized MJ Freeway for outages. Previously, a state spokesperson attributed crashes to operator errors at the dispensaries.

“The industry must have lost millions of dollars [on Tuesday]. I know what it cost me, so I know what it cost the state,” said Visco. “But more important, this was seriously harmful to patients. For many of them, this is a life-or-death situation. We don’t sell T-shirts, we sell medicines.”