A lack of standards is among the factors plaguing the cannabis testing industry, threatening to undermine consumer confidence in marijuana products and making it harder for some testing businesses to operate, according to industry insiders.
But the problems don’t stop there, testing lab officials and regulators contend.
Some marijuana businesses – such as growers, processors and manufacturers – are shopping around for labs that will give them the results they want to see in the way of THC potency and contaminants, according to industry officials.
Other cannabis businesses are said to be sending in samples of their marijuana that have been adulterated with spray-on cannabis oil or dusted with THC crystals to give the impression of a higher THC content, among other practices.
Regulators, meanwhile, are shuttering testing labs for allegedly reporting results that don’t match up with audits.
Earlier this month, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) suspended the license of Praxis Laboratory for allegedly falsifying testing data on more than 1,200 samples of cannabis by providing higher THC numbers than tests actually found.
As it stands now, the Centralia, Washington-based lab is suspended for 180 days effective Dec. 10. While the lab is shuttered, state regulators will seek to permanently revoke its license.
According to an LCB release, “during the investigation the lab owner attempted to destroy evidence of falsified data in an effort to obstruct (the agency’s) ability to conduct a complete investigation.”
Praxis said in a statement to Marijuana Business Daily that the LCB’s decision was “in error and based on inaccurate information.” The lab is appealing the ruling.
In a separate statement to the Washington state cannabis community that was shared on social media, the company said, “This is a clear cut case of agency overreach and libel and we will be pursuing legal action immediately.”
The statement also noted that a disgruntled former employee stole data from the lab, then contacted the regulators.
Regulators elsewhere have shuttered cannabis labs for inaccurate or misleading test results.
In September 2019, the Nevada Tax Commission launched an investigation into marijuana testing labs in the state.
In February 2020, state regulators suspended the license of Certified Ag Labs and fined the business $70,000 for what was described as “inaccurate and misleading” potency in cannabis products that boosted THC levels by as much as 10%.
The lab was allowed to reopen.
A Certified Ag representative told MJBizDaily the company “had some bumps, but our data was plus or minus 10% and we stand behind it.”
The practice of lab shopping – where cannabis growers or product makers look for a facility that will provide favorable results – has almost put Keystone State Testing out of business, said Dr. Kelly Greenland, CEO of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based marijuana testing lab.
“We have clients who test with us and never come back because their numbers are higher elsewhere,” she said.
In addition to higher potency levels, some cannabis businesses also seek favorable results for contaminants, including microbials and heavy metals.
“There are a few labs out there saying, ‘Tell me what you want it to say, and I’ll put it on the label,’” Greenland said.
Pennsylvania’s regulations are adequate, she said, but they’re not being enforced.
“If you want to make sure this market is safe, you need to have safe regulations and you need to have your enforcement enforce the regulations that you’ve made,” Greenland said.
Testing labs promising quick turnaround times – less than 48 hours, for example – might be cutting corners. Greenland said it’s normal for a lab to take up to 72 hours to return results.
Growers and processors don’t have to try that hard to find good testing labs, according to Greenland.
But she added that often it doesn’t make good business sense to play by the rules, “as messed up as this sounds.”
Has cannabis always been political?
Believe it or not, cannabis has been used for thousands of years, with traces of the plant being smoked as far back as 2,500 years. Its first use dates all the way back to 2727 BC in China where it was considered a legitimate medication. Traditional uses of cannabis for medicine might not have been as popular in the west, but that doesn’t mean the cannabis plant wasn’t just as essential.
A very brief prohibitionist history
Not only was cannabis legal prior to the 1930s, it was an essential crop. The ships that brought the colonists to America had sails made entirely from hemp fibers. Colonists were “encouraged” by law from the Queen to grow hemp as one of their staple crops.
In the 1700s and 1800s, extractions from the hemp and cannabis plant were used for medicine all over the country. In 1830, it was used to treat insomnia and migraines, and it acted as a pain reliever. From 1850 to 1942, the United States Pharmacopoeia recognized it as a legal medicine by the name “Extractum Cannabis.”
It wouldn’t be until the 1920s that the United States government would begin to lay restrictions on cannabis cultivation in the form of taxes put on farmers. After a racist, propagandized anti-cannabis movement led by Henry Anslinger, the government eventually created the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This made it basically impossible for farmers to buy, sell or profit off of cannabis production.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The rise of the cannabis movement
Cannabis use and production certainly continued in the illicit markets across the country after prohibition in the United States. Almost 40 years after cannabis was made illegal, genetics and cultivation techniques from Europe (Holland specifically) where hydroponics was a rapidly growing industry made their way to the states.
This revolutionized how we cultivated cannabis, creating more potent cannabis with higher yields. An explosion in cannabis consumption during the 60s and 70s when the “hippy” movement took off created a perfect storm that birthed a new and booming, albeit illegal, industry in the U.S..
With a growing interest in cannabis came a renewed desire to look at why it became illegal in the first place. The reality being that the main propaganda used to make cannabis illegal was based on racist ideologies against Latinos and African Americans. A thirst for justice and the knowledge of a shameful past created a movement that continues to this day.
The movement to legalize cannabis.
The politics of cannabis legalization
The United States is a unique beast. It is the collation of 50 different states, all of which can create their own laws as long they abide the federal law put forth by the federal government. This is why half the country has legal cannabis, and the other half will still throw someone in jail for years just for having a little bit of cannabis in the car.
In a way this makes sense, as the people of the state dictate how the politicians vote. This would imply that in states where cannabis is still illegal, the people there must want it that way. But this is rarely the case. In fact, roughly two-thirds of Americans support legalization of cannabis.
So if the majority of people think cannabis should be legal, and over half the states in the country have gone ahead and just done it themselves, why hasn’t the federal government done anything?
Well that answer is easy…politics.
This article was written shortly after the news of the House of Representatives delaying their vote on the MORE Act. This bill would remove cannabis from the controlled substances list (where it is currently listed as Schedule 1 alongside heroin) and expunge criminal records of those convicted of small cannabis-related crimes.
In the United States, Democrats are considered the “progressive” party. Meaning they are the party that would normally push for something like cannabis legalization. The MORE Act itself was drafted with bipartisan efforts from Republicans and Democrats alike. Yet it was moderate democrats that voted to postpone the vote on the bill.
Why would this be? After all, the Democrats hold the majority in the House and could easily vote the bill through to the senate to begin deliberations.
But they didn’t.
Additionally the Democrats didn’t decide to postpone the vote just a few days or a couple weeks, they postponed it until at least after the election in November between now sitting President Donald Trump and Joe Biden. It might seem irrelevant, but there’s a real, shady, shitty reason that they did this.
The “BIG” announcement
You see, it just so happens that coincidentally, and totally by chance, that the same day that the House of Representatives (i.e. Democrats) decided to postpone the vote, Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris (the Democrat nominees) pledged to decriminalize cannabis, remove it from the scheduled substances list and expunge criminal records.
It’s almost as if the Democrats postponed their House vote until after the election, so that Biden can use it to score points and gain more votes from those who want legal cannabis.
Now, if you haven’t gotten any hints of opinion thus far in this piece, here comes some.
I have a prediction.
Call me crazy, but I think there’s just a slim chance (that’s sarcasm) that if Biden is elected, the House will pass the bill through to the Senate the same week. But if Biden loses, the bill will sit dead in the House for eternity, while Democrats blame Republicans for not letting it pass.
That, my friends, is the true politics of cannabis legalization. It isn’t about figuring out if it’s safe, or can be taxed, or if it’s profitable. We know all of that is true already.
It’s about who gets to take credit, and the letter (D or R) next to their name. For politicians, legalization isn’t about the people. It isn’t about the hundreds of thousands of people in jail for small-time cannabis crimes.
It’s about them!
What happens to a federally illegal business during a national pandemic?
We are all about to see what happens in real time. As Coronavirus rapidly spreads across the United States, businesses everywhere are shutting down.
Restaurants are only doing delivery and takeout, and the only other businesses allowed to operate are those marked as “essential”. Doctors offices, pharmacies and grocery stores are understandably essential, but states are also marking liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries essential.
But not all dispensaries are so lucky to get the essential treatment.
The dispensary dilemma
Nobody would really argue that medical dispensaries are not essential. Medical cannabis users must get a doctor’s recommendation to use it, making cannabis their medicine. But recreational cannabis dispensaries are a whole different monster.
Different taxes, different regulations, different requirements. Recreational and medical cannabis, though identical in actual product, have been split into two different industries due to the progression of cannabis advocacy. While medical cannabis is just that, medicine, recreational cannabis has been put in line more with alcohol.
But while those who suffer severe alcohol addiction can actually die if they don’t have alcohol — presumably the main reason liquor stores have been deemed essential — recreational cannabis users can go cold turkey relatively easy with little side effects. And that’s why they haven’t been deemed essential in several states.
Although California and Colorado, among others, have deemed all cannabis businesses essential, Massachusetts has made headlines for shutting down all recreational cannabis sales. While it might not seem like a big deal considering hundreds of businesses have had to close down, there’s one crucial difference between recreational cannabis businesses and all others; federal legality.
No federal assistance
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we all live and will live for quite some time. With a lot of businesses being forced to close, many have resorted to lay-offs, furloughs or completely closing down. In an effort to support small businesses, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27.
The legislation provides economic assistance to small businesses, in the form of interest free loans, a paycheck protection program and more. But this is a federal program, and a business that is considered illegal on the federal level can’t receive help from federal programs.
In other words, cannabis businesses both recreational and medical cannot receive any government assistance from the federal government. So while medical dispensaries have been deemed essential, recreational dispensaries in states like Massachusetts have not. So they are forced to close with no government assistance, leaving them with no option but to close down, lay-off or shut down completely.
To simplify, recreational dispensaries in states like Massachusetts are up shit creek without a paddle.
Can recreational cannabis survive Coronavirus?
Most recreational cannabis businesses might just have to tighten up a little bit over the next couple of months in most states. But the future is cloudy for recreational dispensaries in Massachusetts. If they can’t operate at all, they can’t make money, can’t pay rent on their location, and eventually can’t keep the business running.
It would be speculation to say that the governor of Massachusetts is doing this because of his lack of support for legal cannabis — even though it took Massachusetts over 3 years to open a recreational cannabis dispensary after legalizing in 2016 due to plenty of barriers — but it’s not hard to imagine a government official using a position of power to punish an industry they do not support.
Unlike other small businesses that might have to close down but can still receive government support, recreational cannabis dispensaries are pretty much on their own to make it through the Coronavirus pandemic, with no clear end in sight. It took four years for Massachusetts to get up and running with recreational cannabis, and it only took two weeks for the state to shut it all back down.
While the future is unclear, it’s going to be a tough road ahead for all cannabis businesses in the United States.
Cannabis dispensaries are being labeled “essential”. Should that also mean legal?
COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, has completely changed the way we all live. As much as we don’t want to admit it, our everyday lifestyles are changing pretty drastically and the nation, its states, and businesses big and small are all struggling to find a solution.
With several states beginning to shut down “non-essential” businesses, the decision has to be made what businesses are essential. There’s the obvious essential businesses like grocery stores, doctors offices and pharmacies.
But one business most people probably didn’t expect to be marked essential is cannabis dispensaries.
Cannabis dispensaries are essential?
While most states are shutting down all non-essential businesses, exceptions have been made for a variety of businesses in different states. Most states are permitting restaurants to stay open for carry-out only, and in Colorado, you can now get alcohol to go from restaurants that serve beer.
Now in Los Angeles, amid an entire state-wide stay-in order, cannabis dispensaries have been deemed essential businesses that can remain open.
Unfortunately for recreational users, the rule only applies to medical dispensaries, which makes sense. People with a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis, especially those with serious or debilitating conditions still need access to their medicine.
But if medical dispensaries are essential, and New York has even deemed liquor stores essential, then why shouldn’t recreational dispensaries be essential too?
The question that this really beckons to be answered though, is if medical cannabis dispensaries are essential businesses, why shouldn’t they be federally legal?
A sign we should legalize?
The fact that state governments across the country have deemed medical cannabis dispensaries essential and sales of recreational cannabis have skyrocketed over the past two weeks should be a sign that it is a product that is in great demand, right?
But that doesn’t mean recreational cannabis is as essential as medical cannabis, and as much as we hate to say it here at The Real Dirt, even alcohol.
The reason liquor stores are being permitted to remain open is likely due to the 15 million people across the country who suffer from alcoholism, and a smaller minority that suffers from serious addiction that could lead to serious health problems if they were to quit drinking cold-turkey.
If we continue to insist that cannabis is non-addictive (or at least not as harmfully addictive as alcohol and other pharmaceuticals), then there is no reason for recreational cannabis businesses to be deemed essential.
Nobody needs recreational cannabis to survive, unlike those with medical cards who could seriously rely on it. Where the debate lies, is in the differences between medical and recreational cannabis and how the line drawn between the two is so subtle and blurry.
Where does this lead?
A day after I started writing this, Colorado announced a stay-in-order, including the closure of liquor stores and recreational dispensaries. Not even four hours later, they were forced to walk it back.
There was so much backlash that the Governor of Colorado has now made recreational dispensaries and liquor stores essential businesses.
So while only medical dispensaries are deemed essential in California, recreational dispensaries are added to that list in Colorado. If other states follow behind Colorado and include recreational and medical dispensaries in their essential business orders, it could be a big bargaining chip in the fight for legalization.
If every state with medical and legal cannabis deems the businesses as essential — just as essential as grocery stores, doctor offices, and pharmacies — then how someone seriously argue that it should be illegal? We know the fight we’re in, however, and we know it won’t be that easy.
A more likely advancement that cannabis consumers can get excited about is the rise of cannabis delivery. Colorado is only allowing the first medical dispensary in Boulder to deliver starting this spring, with plans for recreational to follow in 2021.
But with current developments and a need to provide cannabis to thousands of consumers, more dispensaries will start to ask the government to move faster.
The fact remains that cannabis dispensaries are the only business across the country that have been deemed essential, while also being federally illegal. It’s pretty crazy when you really think about it. Read that first sentence again for maximum impact.
If you’ve watched the news over the past month, you probably think vaping can now kill you.
In today’s sensationalist news cycle, it has become the standard to over-exaggerate. Whether it’s about politics or a major health crisis, the media will always drive a narrative that gets people more worried, and gets them more views.
So it’s no surprise that when people started getting sick from vape pens the media would jump all over it.
The Vape Pen Controversy
It all started in September. A news story broke about someone getting some type of lung-related illness from a vape pen. At first, that was all. But then the story broke. The vape pen they were using had THC in it.
Cue the media leaping into hysteria, claiming that THC vape pens are making people sick. And if you watched the news around this time, there was a clear implication that it wasn’t something else in the pens causing harm, it was the THC. But that didn’t stop other outlets from claiming it wasn’t just THC vape pens to blame, but all vape pens.
Of course all of the drama and freak out over vape pen related illnesses was based on half truths. Yes, people were in fact getting sick, and even dying, from THC vape pens. But there’s one thing that every single news story in the mainstream media failed to mention. Legality.
Out of over 400 cases of reported lung-related illnesses caused by vape pens, about 99% of them were caused by illicit vape pens. In other words, people purchased vape pen cartridges on the illicit market, and got sick. Why? Because of cutting agents.
Specifically, cartridge producers on the illicit market used vitamin E as a cutting agent. That doesn’t sound like a big deal right? We need vitamin E to stay healthy, you can eat it, you can put it in ointments, so why not a vape?
Well, it turns out that when you vaporize vitamin E, it converts to vitamin E acetate, a solid, viscous state. So these unknowing consumers would hit their pen, the vitamin E would convert to vitamin E acetate, and the residue would attach to the inside of their lungs. That causes some serious respiratory issues, and in a few cases, death.
There are already plenty of conspiracy theorists out there claiming big tobacco is the culprit for the major media focus on THC vape pens causing the problem. This would be an attempt to take down the vape pen industry that is the largest competitor to cigarettes. Others thought it was lobbying groups pushing to reverse the efforts of cannabis legalization.
But in all of the confusion, half-assed reporting and straight up false information, the people who really get hurt are the consumers. Not just those that are actually getting hurt by illicit vape pens because they don’t have access to safe, legal cannabis. But also your everyday cannabis consumer, and your medical user especially.
There are patients who don’t like to smoke, and choose to vape their medicine. With the rising concern surrounding vape pens, some dispensaries (and even entire states) have taken vape pens off of their shelves to make sure they are safe. Which is all well and good until the people who really need them can’t access them.