It could be argued that one of the greatest benefits of marijuana legalization is guaranteed safety. In most states where the herb is legal, cannabis growers are required by law to have their products tested by an accredited third-party lab to ensure they are free of pesticides, bacteria, mold, and other toxins. The objective is to ensure that all cannabis products are accurately labeled and fit for human consumption prior to distribution. Yes, we want that! Why? Well, failing to do so could have dire consequences. Lung infections and other ailments are common in those who consume tainted weed. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the importance of this process. Some cannabis producers oppose testing, arguing that the requirements are often too strict for them to succeed. Many have even lobbied to have the rules diminished for this reason. But should the cannabis industry really be pushing for less testing?
New York recently eliminated testing limits for mold, and yeast after many cannabis producers voiced concerns that none of their products would be able to pass under strict limits. Although testing is still required, “there will not be a defined limit for unextracted cannabis products (cannabis flower, pre-roll, etc.) in the adult-use program,” reads a memo from the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. The agency says that while producers are still required to test, it is “the responsibility of the licensee to consider these results and any impact to the stability and expiration dating of the product, as well as any risks to the health of consumers.” Translation: As long as the producer doesn’t think the consumer is at risk, they can sell contaminated weed.
Many argue the reduction was a good move since it puts New York in line with the testing standards in a number of other states – all of which vary. There is vast fluctuation in the permissible limits for toxic materials within each state, not to mention the allowed variation between reported potency and what is printed on the label. Leaving testing up to the discretion of the grower is an obvious benefit… for them. Now they can move more potentially tainted products into the market. But the implication of this freedom is indisputable.
Many consumers aren’t privy to the value of cannabis testing. They might gather that safety protocols are in place, but they have no idea what they are. So, they blindly trust that the products they purchase, regardless of whether it is breakfast cereal or cannabis, aren’t going to cause them harm. If they are available in a store, they must be legit and, above all else, safe. Dropping testing limits only serves to undermine the standards, quality, and expectations that customers have come to appreciate, even if they have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes. The second someone gets sick, however, that all changes. Now the market is rife with peril.
The cannabis industry has already endured a lot of criticism since legalization started taking hold decades ago. The marijuana testing systems in many states have been plagued by inconsistent results, unscrupulous labs, and falsified Certificates of Analysis (COAs), driving skepticism in the one sector of the cannabis trade that’s ultimately responsible for maintaining safety – the testing labs. By not putting an emphasis on product safety by remaining steadfast in terms of safety standards, or worse, discounting it completely, the industry could end up leaving itself open to a wealth of condemnation as legalization efforts progress. Dissatisfied consumers have already launched lawsuits against cannabis producers in several states for forging potency results. This litigiousness against an untrustworthy industry could easily skyrocket in the coming years. We’re not off to the best start. If lab testing continues to foul the trust of the consumer, the industry could have a tough time bouncing back. And who is going to be responsible for those who fall ill? Rest assured, no cannabis company wants to endure the wrath of a recall or, worse, more litigation. It is undoubtedly better to move forward with integrity than risk the potential backlash destined to arise by continuing to cut corners in pursuit of profits.
So, is scrapping testing limits in the best interest of the cannabis industry? Probably not. What’s good for the industry is also good for the consumer. Failing to protect the safety of our customers only stands to cheapen our spot in this very young, flourishing business sector, leaving us susceptible to a downfall. Of course, federal intervention would help tighten up regulatory affairs nationwide, forcing states to come together on a uniform testing scheme. The industry could really benefit from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepping in to provide guidance, and it’s imperative that such federal oversight eventually becomes the law of the land. Until that happens, though, we’re on our own. Therefore, state regulators could do a better job of holding cannabis operations accountable and to a higher standard. However, regulators are often in the dark about how to police lab testing without consensus. Still, as long as there are little to no repercussions for cannabis operators that cheat the system, you had better believe they will continue to do whatever is necessary whenever possible to stay alive. Be careful, New York.
Although the FDA isn’t likely to come to the rescue until marijuana is legal at the federal level (something that could take years for Congress to achieve), the industry has the support of standard-developing organizations. United States Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary (USP), the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC International), and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International) have all chimed in on various state regulations regarding cannabis testing. Ultimately, the goal is to get cannabis testing in the same ranks as standards applied in the realm of food and pharmaceuticals, giving the consumer more confidence about the quality and safety of pot products. Once a harmony is reached, there will be fewer shenanigans and woolly eyes to contend with. Strengthening testing, not scrapping it, is the only way.