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Discussing Transportation in the Cannabis Supply Chain

The steps taken in the aftermath of growing and harvesting cannabis are vital to preserving its quality and potency. However, once the drying/trimming (depending on the order you choose), curing, and manufacturing are completed, the next part of the cannabis journey is just as important. At the end of the day, if you work hard to produce a high-quality product, you would undoubtedly want to ensure that it can maintain that quality until it arrives in your consumer’s hands.

Cannabinoids & Terpenes Naturally Degrade Over Time

Cannabis starts degrading after it is cut from the stem (Moore, 2021). One study found that after 127 days of storage, cannabis inflorescence lost between “18 - 34.3% of its total THC content for samples stored with and without external terpenes, respectively” (Bueno et al., 2022). Another study, conducted by S. Ross and M. Elsohly, found that, on average, their cannabis sample’s THC concentration had a loss proportional to the time it spent in storage (1999).

A cannabis plant in a shadow
Photo courtesy of MasterTux

Likewise, temperature, lighting, humidity, and oxygen exposure can impact potency and terpene degradation. A study performed by Luca Zamengo et al. found that of the four varied cannabis samples they tested, there were “significant changes in THC (degradation) and CBN (formation) content [in two of the samples]… and almost 100% of the THC was degraded after four years” (2019). They also claim that freezing is the best option to maintain THC concentrations (Zamengo et al., 2019).

This problem becomes more prevalent as the industry expands past traditional cannabis flowers and into dabs, vapes, and more (Lazarjani et al., 2021). For example, Nina Julia with CFAH reports that CBD oils can expire; they usually last about 12 - 18 months if stored properly (2022). This process, much like cannabis flowers, can be drastically sped up if improperly stored (Julia, 2022). Regarding transportation, this information is essential because there are a lot of legal, political, and logistical issues that could stall cannabis’ movement from farm to shelf.

The Current Transportation System isn’t Perfect

Because of its Schedule 1 status as a controlled substance, cannabis cannot be transported in traditional 18-wheel semi-trucks (Roberts, 2019). It is likewise illegal to move cannabis across state lines, even if crossing from one legalized state to the next (Rough, 2017).

An 18-wheeler semi-truck to haul cargo across state lines
Photo courtesy of ArtisticOperations

Both of those things force cannabis distributors and manufacturers to use smaller-scale vehicles, which increases the cost because more vehicles are needed to transport. When accounting for the fact that these smaller-scale vehicles must be equipped with the proper preservation equipment to maintain high-quality cannabis products, that increases the cost even more.

On top of that, every state, including ones with legalized recreational and medicinal use, has state-specific cannabis laws. For example, California requires businesses to have distribution licenses, which vary based on your specific business needs (Department of Cannabis Control – State of California, 2022). Colorado also requires licenses, but they are only valid for two years (Marijuana Transport License | Colorado General Assembly, 2016).

Those industry-specific limitations, paired with the already-existing supply chain issues like “port congestion, staffing shortages, trucking delays,” create an environment where unintended delays are a constant possibility (Koski, 2022).

At A Glace…

Transportation is a vital part of the cannabis distribution chain, and ensuring high-quality cannabis products arrive in the consumer’s hands should be the ultimate goal.

Proper cannabis packaging, storage, and transportation are vital to ensuring quality cannabis products are in their best possible condition when they get to the consumer. So much goes into creating high-quality cannabis products, so it is important to understand how to maintain this quality throughout the supply chain. Due to the many factors that contribute to cannabis product preservation and the many product types that exist in today’s maturing market, ideal storage conditions may vary from product to product.

Rely on Steep Hill

Steep Hill is a distributed network of cannabis testing labs providing regulatory, quality assurance, and R&D cannabis testing services to growers, processors, distributors, and retailers across the United States. Our services are easy to use, and our teams are committed to providing the best possible solutions to some of the cannabis industry’s toughest science challenges. We offer a seamless experience from sample submission to COA, all while leveraging cutting-edge Information Management Systems and analytics to provide our customers with the results and insights they need, all while keeping their schedules in mind.


Bueno, J., Alborzi, S., & Greenbaum, E. (2022, April 5). Vapor phase terpenes mitigate oxidative degradation of cannabis sativa ... Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

Department of Cannabis Control - State of California. (2022). Distribution. Department of Cannabis Control. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from

Julia, N. (2022, October 28). Does CBD oil expire? things to know about hemp oil shelf life. CFAH. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from

Koski, L. (2022, April 21). Building Technology to protect the Cannabis Supply Chain. Forbes. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

Lazarjani, M. P., Young, O., Kebede, L., & Seyfoddin, A. (2021, July 19). Processing and extraction methods of medicinal cannabis: A narrative review - journal of cannabis research. BioMed Central. Retrieved December 21, 2022, from

Marijuana Transporter License. Marijuana Transporter License | Colorado General Assembly. (2016, May 9). Retrieved October 20, 2022, from

Moore, B. (2021, October 20). Member blog: Evaporation is costing the cannabis industry millions. here's everything you need to know. |. The National Cannabis Industry Association. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

Reason, D., Grainger, M., & Lane, J. (2022, September 22). Fuel range properties of oil and wax obtained from catalytic pyrolysis ... ACS Publications. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

Roberts, J. (2019, August 12). 18 wheelers and weed. Safety & Compliance - Trucking Info. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

Ross, S. A., & ELSOHLY, M. A. (1999). UNODC - Bulletin on narcotics - 1997 issue 1 - 008. United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

Rough, L. (2020, July 28). Can you legally transport cannabis across state lines? Leafly. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from

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