It’s certainly convenient to compare the nascent California cannabis industry to the days of the Wild West, but pioneers never had to measure trim with triple-quadrupole mass spectrometers.
However, Oakland’s Bhang Vape California — one of the most widely distributed brands in the world — is quite familiar with spectrometers, and with plenty of other equipment. It currently put its vape cartridges through arguably the most rigorous testing procedure of any company in the state. Executive Director Marco Rullo says that even before a February report from NBC4 in Los Angeles caused Bhang to go back to the drawing board, it was already going well above and beyond current state requirements.
“One of Bhang’s key tenets is triple-testing,” says Rullo. “It’s on all of our packaging: ‘triple-tested for potency, pesticides, and microbials.’ This was something we had already been doing fastidiously for a number of years. We thought we were doing everything we possibly could, in the best way that we possibly could.”
Given these feelings, it came as quite a shock to Rullo and his team when NBC4 released findings earlier this year that showed 41 of 44 products purchased from Los Angeles dispensaries — including Bhang — tested positive for pesticides “above the allowable limits in Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and Nevada.” Given that California is still in the process of finalizing its 2018 regulations, there are currently no rules concerning pesticides for the state — but they’re coming.
Eager to prove their commitment to safe and sound medicine, Rullo took his team down to SC Labs — a highly respected cannabis-testing facility in Santa Cruz — to meet with executives and come up with a plan.
“I asked them how we could make our testing and everything as fool-proof as we possibly could,” he says.
What they came up with was a new 20-page section for the company’s standard operating procedures. Among the specifics are testing protocols that require stratified sampling, wherein oil is sampled at a variety of strategic points, instead of just taking a single sample to fulfill the mandated quantity required. Another area covered was how to properly sample trim.
“You can’t just reach your hand in and pull out a pound of trim and send it to go get tested,” Rullo explains. “You have to break them down into 25-pound batches. We have to pull from separate places so that it’s all stratified and yields representative batch samples.”
Overall, Bhang’s testing procedures are exhaustive, with testing performed at every stage. When the staff take in trim, they make sure it meets pesticide requirements, and then perform a micro-extraction test to see if it is viable to proceed with an actual extraction of the oil. They test the oil at the start, and then again when it’s at post-process. At the manufacturing stage, before Bhang releases the actual product, they perform a “hold and release,” where a representative sample of the finished material is taken and sent out to get tested again. Once it passes that final round, the product is sent out to the company’s distribution and dispensary partners.
Coming from a background in behavioral economics, Rullo says his past work with more traditional industries has helped him in his efforts to ensure Bhang’s operations are carried out with legitimacy and transparency.
“I’ve been in many mainstream markets and seen the way those markets have evolved, so I’ve taken some of those paradigms and applied them here,” he says. “That said, with the way that the landscape shifts, it’s like new challenges are constantly coming up, and so you have to be able to also be very agile and pivot much more than you would in a market that’s completely established.”
Despite the cost and effort Bhang has already put into its revamped testing protocols, Rullo still says everything is in limbo until California puts firm regulations in place.
“I am not a huge proponent of more governmental oversight in my personal life,” he says. “And I would imagine a lot of people who work in this industry are not a huge proponent of that as well, but I can say I’m probably of a like-mind with most people in this industry who at this point in time are crying out for more governmental oversight. To try and get a bunch of cannabis companies and labs to do the exact same thing, the exact same way, without a regulatory body in place is just not possible.”
While Rullo concedes that Bhang’s rigorous testing makes for a higher price point for consumers, he’s confident that the quality and assurances that come with the cost will hopefully encourage customers to spend a little extra.
“‘We’re doing this because we’re committed to doing it,” he says. “If we’re committed to doing something, you don’t only do it when someone is watching you. You don’t only do it when it’s the law.”