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Fewer than one-third of California’s 37 licensed cannabis testing laboratories began the new year permitted to test marijuana flower and non-infused pre-rolls, state regulators told MJBizDaily.
That’s because only 12 labs are currently compliant with a recent state law imposing standardized methods to test for THC potency, according to the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC).
Any labs that tested flower while not in compliance could face consequences, an agency spokesperson said.
Observers are hopeful that a standardized method for determining THC content will help control what many industry insiders believe is a longstanding and widespread problem with THC potency inflation that state regulators have been slow to combat.
Across the country, licensed dispensaries are selling flower and concentrate products with advertised THC percentages that critics – including scientists – say are botanically impossible.
It’s still too early for the state’s new standards to affect what THC content is listed on retailers’ inventory of regulated cannabis products, nearly all of which were processed and tested before Jan. 1, when the new rules went into effect.
But longer term, the move should “have a beneficial impact on the integrity of the market by making it harder for cheaters to cheat,” Wesley Hein, the Los Angeles-based head of global brand expansion at licensed distributor Mammoth Distribution and president of the California Distributors Association, told MJBizDaily in an email.
Old problem, new solution
Critics say potency inflation is a problem in every regulated market.
According to a data review conducted by Massachusetts-based laboratory executive Yasha Kahn and shared with MJBizDaily in November, some labs inflate THC percentages by double digits.
With more than $5 billion in annual marijuana sales, California is the largest individual regulated market in the United States, with sales almost twice as high as all of Canada, the first large country to legalize adult-use sales.
The state also may be leading other jurisdictions in cracking down on potency inflation, which observers generally agree is the result of inadequate enforcement and consumer demand for high THC content.
In September, regulators informed licensed businesses that the state had begun randomly testing products pulled from cannabis retail shelves at state laboratories.
Any product maker or lab alleging THC numbers that differed significantly from what state-directed lab testing found was at risk for punishment, including product recalls.
That process has yet to result in any discipline, DCC spokesman David Hafner told MJBizDaily.
New rules for 2024
Updated requirements for THC testing methods are the result of legislation California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2021 that required the DCC to devise a standardized testing method that labs would be required to use starting Jan. 1, 2024.
Labs were asked to submit a “verification report” attesting they could comply with the standardized method by Oct. 31.
According to the DCC, the labs that submitted verification reports are:
- 2 Rivers Labs.
- Bel Costa Labs Long Beach.
- California Cannabis Testing Labs.
- CaliGreen Laboratory.
- Certified Ag Labs, doing business as California AG Labs.
- Harrens Lab Inc.
- HK Holding LLC, doing business as SQRD Lab.
- ILS Lab Inc., doing business as Quality Cannabis Laboratory.
- Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs.
- Pure Cannalyst Lab Inc.
- Purity Medical Laboratories.
- SC Laboratories California.
The 25 licensed labs that did not submit that report can still test edibles, concentrates and infused pre-rolls.
Those labs also will be allowed to resume testing dried cannabis and non-infused pre-rolls once they submit a verification report, according to the DCC.
“The department is actively reviewing verification reports and working with licensees who have submitted their verification reports,” Hafner told MJBizDaily in an email.
“As verification reviews are completed, those labs can test for flower and non-infused flower products.”
Several members of California’s cannabis industry told MJBizDaily that non-compliant labs were still testing flower and non-infused pre-rolls as of last week, causing that product to become “locked” in the state’s track-and-trace system meant to monitor the cannabis supply chain.
The DCC could not immediately confirm whether that was the case or whether such products would be ineligible for sale.
“DCC has been prioritizing re-sampling requests from distributors who had samples with labs that can no longer complete testing,” Hafner told MJBizDaily on Friday in an email.
“DCC is reviewing COAs and Metrc data to determine compliance. All labs violating the law may be subject to discipline.”
Cannabis labs have said that the demand for high potency puts pressure on state-regulated labs to present high-THC results or risk losing business to labs that will, as retailers are loath to purchase products that won’t be popular with consumers.
Labs that say they refuse to inflate or otherwise adjust results also want stricter consequences for unscrupulous players in the space – including scrutiny of any labs that suddenly present vastly different results under the new standardized testing methods.
“All that people need to understand is that there’s a list out there, and if there’s a lab that’s not on that list, don’t use it,” said Josh Swider, cofounder and president of San Diego-based Infinite Chemical Analysis, who has long asked the state to address California’s potency-inflation problem.
Swider says his lab lost nearly all of its flower clients over the past few years because it refused to inflate potency results.
He added that it is still unclear whether standardized testing methods will resolve the issue.
“What happens to results? Will there still be 40% THC flower out there?” Swider asked.
“And do the producers keep working with the labs that said they tested 40% flower?”
Chris Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.