Cannabis Labs Weigh In

How proposed California testing requirements may send consumers back to the black market.

No one wants mildew in their Blueberry Kush, or a cookie that has all its THC concentrated into one particular bite. When we go to the dispensary or order online, we trust what the labels and fine print say — but who is actually responsible for ensuring those details are accurate?

While casual consumers may not spend much time considering the importance of lab testing on the cannabis industry, California has laid out a stringent list of requirements for how business should be conducted when recreational sales go live in 2018.

According to William Waldrop, CEO of Signal Bay, Inc. — a cannabis analytical testing and advisory service with labs in Oregon and California — the state has taken “some good steps” with its proposed regulations. Waldrop has watched other states struggle to strike the right balance between ensuring consumer safety and not tying up the industry in unnecessary red tape.

But in California’s case, Waldrop is concerned that some the proposed requirements may in fact be too strict.

“They’ve put together a very stringent list of proposed requirements, and I understand they are focused on public safety. However, we’re very concerned about the costs associated with some of these requirements,” Waldrop explains. “There is a burden that this would put on the industry, from growers to the entire supply chain. If you over-test, you’re going to push product to the black market.”

In essence, the more testing required, the more costs mount. Ultimately, those costs are passed down to consumers and patients, who may decide at some point that legal, regulated cannabis has grown too expensive and revert to buying it from illicit sources.

For Signal Bay COO Lori Glauser, costs are not the only obstacle. She believes the labs themselves must also be held to high standards, citing a concern that a demand for optimal test results can sometimes tempt a facility to consider fudging the numbers.

“A lot of people shop on the value of THC in cannabis, and therefore, high-THC cannabis flower tends to fetch a higher price in the marketplace,” Glauser says. “As a result, there is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on the labs to get the highest THC result. If there’s nobody overseeing it, and if there are no quality controls in place, it would be easy for labs to be influenced to find ways to increase those test results.”

With this in mind, Glauser brings up several specific regulations she feels would benefit from revision. One requires samplers — that is, individuals who go on-site to collect samples for testing — to wear protective equipment that includes disposable coveralls, filtering dust masks, and safety goggles, precautions that she thinks are overkill.

“You can imagine what impression that gives of the safety of cannabis if somebody’s coming on-site to test and they’re dressed as if they’re from The X-Files,” she says.

Another issue is the pedigree required of lab technicians. Currently, they need to have specific degrees in biology or chemistry, along with a certain number of years’ worth of experience working for an accredited lab.

“Of course, you want to have highly-qualified personnel working in labs,” Glauser says. “But the challenge there is that there are not that many people out there that have worked for accredited labs in the past, have cannabis experience, want to work in the cannabis industry, and have the academic credentials — particularly in outlying areas.”

Beyond the scarcity of viable lab technicians these requirements would create, Glauser also notes that Oregon was forced to scale back on some of its testing requirements due in part to the strain the laws was placing on the available lab facilities. Starting in 2018, that problem is likely to occur again for their neighbors to the south.

“The market for testing in California is likely also going to be tight when these rules come into place,” she says. “There’s going to be a need for a lot more labs to get going to satisfy this demand.”

While some farmers and processors may gripe at the toll forthcoming testing requirements will take on their wallets and time, Waldrop emphasizes that testing is a pivotal part of the industry. Beyond the safety aspects — ensuring that residual solvents and mycobacteria like E. coli don’t end up in your medicine — labs are also responsible for making certain that dosing is accurate.

“We’ve all heard the story about the chocolate bar, the story about someone taking too much of a good thing,” Glauser says, “and that’s why it’s important from the testing side to ensure that this recreational program gets off to a nice, clean, smooth start.”

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