30 January 2023 will go down as a historic day in Switzerland. For the very first time, recreational cannabis can be legally purchased as the initial project of the Swiss pilot trials starts.
Cannavigia, chosen by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) to provide the track & trace solution for the trial, has played a major role in the first project WEED CARE in Basel so far and will continue to do so in future ones for the rest of the ten-year contract period.
For the pilot trials which are individual, scientific studies by cantons, municipalities and universities, Cannavigia has been extended to include a Cannabis Dispensary System (CDS). Thanks to the combination of both, the companies cultivating cannabis for the projects, can monitor their supply chain and cultivation, ensuring the quality of the finished products. The software is used by the study leaders to register research participants pseudonymously as well as include selected dispensaries where participants can purchase cannabis. The CDS allows dispensaries to keep track of their narcotics inventory, sales, as well as the specific quantities dispensed to participants, guaranteeing that only those who are authorised to do so can buy the cannabis goods.
Extending the Cannavigia Software Suite to meet the FOPHs requirements was steered by COO Philipp Hagenbach and by Project Manager and Product Owner, Pia Meyer. We had a talk with them about how they got involved, the problems and successes they encountered and where they see the trials going in the future.
Why is this project important to Cannavigia?
Philipp: Having earned the trust of the Swiss government, our software and company have been granted a high credibility and enormous recognition. This increases the trustworthiness with other regulators and potential clients and we have already seen evidence to support this. We engage with legislators from other nations where we have had the privilege of discussing related strategies. This is what makes this project so valuable and prestigious for us. It is exciting to be a part of regulation changes and law making in a political sphere of a new and emerging industry. We have the chance to contribute our ideas to this brand-new way of thinking. Remember this is the first nationwide legalisation attempt in the whole of Europe and we are part of it.
Pia: It effectively illustrates one of the key reasons we developed this software: complete supply chain transparency and traceability. This is why we are so proud to talk about it!
What are your roles in the project?
Pia: Internally, the development is being led by both of us. We are essentially at the intersection of all internal and external stakeholders. We participate in meetings with external parties like the department of Public Health, the project leaders of the different cantons or the police. There, we get their guidelines which I then talk about with our developers to build the CDS. And then, our roles involve extensive testing, reviewing and improvement.
How did Cannavigia get involved?
Philipp: We developed Cannavigia as a track and trace software together with industry leaders, getting their user requirements and feedback to further adjust and improve it according to their needs. Thanks to our innovative technology and subject matter expertise we have established ourselves as pioneering European compliance software. This helped us build a broad network which in turn allowed us to connect with government representatives involved in the project. When the pilot program in Switzerland came up, some of the partners that we worked with applied for a license and mentioned in their submission paper that they use our software for documentation and compliance. At some point the FOPH approached us with details of the project and what they needed from a partner and invited us to a pitch on the tender. We got selected in November 2021 by the government and we kicked off in February 2022.
What have been the challenges in making this work?
Philipp: Since we were creating something completely from scratch rather than simply improving upon something, there was ongoing planning and issue solving. There are numerous stakeholders whose needs we had to capture and serve. You believe you’ve thought of everything when you start planning, developing and reviewing, but there is always more to consider. The project was and still is exciting, with some challenges but unquestionably more successes – it is amazing to see how everything came together in the end.
Pia: For me, the challenge was what the stakeholders desired and where development could go. A lot of the requirements evolved over time, there wasn’t an initial list that everybody stuck to. We always had to be open to new requests, but this is the beauty of this software – things can be changed as you go along because it’s compartmentalised.
What comes next?
Pia: Since the pharmacies taking part in the WEED CARE study start selling the cannabis to participants today, making it the first time they use our system in a real setting, we will soon have some user feedback. Together with the study leaders who have been using the system to register participants since September, we receive an overall assessment of the software. This will be helpful for enhancing it over the next weeks, both for this initial project and for all following pilot trials.
Philipp:. The Swiss pilot trials will continue for the next 10 years, so many more projects will follow that we can assist with our system. We are looking forward to finding out which ones will be approved next and with whom we will be collaborating with. Furthermore, regulators in other nations might follow Switzerland’s lead and we had the opportunity to talk with some of them. So let’s see what partnerships we can establish outside of this country.