Those familiar with the industry – from lab owners to medical patients – said that if a state doesn’t require testing for contaminants, cultivators and dispensaries likely won’t pay for that service.
“Most people are interested, in the voluntary states, in potency and the terpenes,” Sherman said. Terpenes are molecules that give each strain of marijuana an individual scent, in almost the same way varieties of coffee might differ slightly in aroma.
Ensuring products are ‘clean’
Jose Zavaleta navigates his way from one lab room to another at Pure Analytics in New Britain, Connecticut. The lab director types a security code into the door handle before entering each room.
Jose Zavaleta is the lab director of Pure Analytics in New Britain, Connecticut, which runs state-required comprehensive tests on marijuana for patients. (Photo by Jessie Wardarski | News21)
Pure Analytics is one of the few labs in the country that runs the full gamut of tests on marijuana, rather than just potency. Connecticut requires it as part of its medical marijuana program, which mirrors standards in the pharmaceutical industry.
Zavaleta said the lab has invested more than $2 million in equipment to ensure patients receive a safe product. “We make sure that all the product that hits the shelves is clean,” Zavaleta said.
However, even those states with stringent lab testing requirements still must deal with challenges. Those include concerns about establishing uniform testing standards, requiring labs to meet the same qualifications, ensuring quality oversight and addressing liability issues.
Haskins owns labs in Washington and California, and he will open soon in Nevada. His lab was the first in the country to obtain international accreditation.
Few marijuana laboratories have such accreditation – without which no third party holds a lab’s scientists accountable – as they do in other areas of scientific testing. “We have to give our clients confidence in our results,” Haskins said.
Federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency can’t regulate safety in the cannabis industry because it is still a Schedule 1 drug, illegal under federal law. That means states with legal medical marijuana, and the individual labs operating in them, must determine these standards on their own.
Lab standards include the types of tests performed as well as the ways a lab executes that test.
“There is no single gold standard,” said Mike Vandyke, chief of environmental epidemiology for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
Some labs have based their methods on how the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention outline testing herbs similar to marijuana. The agricultural industry has used those methods for decades.
Machon, business director of CMT Labs in Denver, helped her state amend its testing laws. The state now includes a guide to uniform testing methods.
Without them, Machon said multiple labs could all test the same marijuana sample and come up with differing potencies. “That discrepancy cannot happen,” Machon said. “It’s bad for us as labs. It’s bad for the industry having, now, doubts about labs.”
Jeannine Machon, business director of CMT Labs in Denver, helped her state amend its testing laws to create uniform testing methods for marijuana. (Photo by Dom DiFurio | News21).
Colorado only requires testing for recreational marijuana products. However, with the implementation of the guidelines, industry insiders said they expect to apply the new standards of testing to the state’s medical marijuana program.
Lab professionals also fear sample sizes could skew the percentages of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, and other results if the size of the sample isn’t representative of the crop. Labs in Washington even submitted a “letter of concern” to the Washington State Liquor Control Board in February that addressed sampling as an issue of public safety.
Connecticut requires labs like Pure Analytics to physically take the sample from a production facility themselves. “We gown up to do it sterilely,” Zavaleta said. “We use techniques to ensure we are getting an unbiased result as opposed to the other places in the country where the production facilities choose the samples.”
Cory Wray, executive director of the Alaska Cannabis Institute and a Washington state resident, said competition among dispensaries may lead to cutting corners. “People often take the best bud from the plant and send it to be tested, again to get the highest THC rating or number,” Wray said.