Quality Assurance No Place to Cut Corners

August 5, 2017

Consistent, standardized product testing is required to meet the increasing consumer demand to know exactly what they are putting in their bodies.

As cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, there is currently no quality assurance (QA) mechanism enforced by the Food and Drug Administration. As a result, testing procedures vary so greatly by state and have produced such inconsistent results that businesses and consumers alike are calling for standardized testing requirements to be established across the board, either by state governments or by the FDA itself.

The legal cannabis industry has reached a maturity level where the demand for QA can no longer be ignored.

Some states do not require QA testing at all, while others simply take no measures to regulate the process. This has been the environment in which cannabis products are tested for moisture content, molds, pesticides, microbes, and other contaminants. Each strain of cannabis is also tested for potency, which has been a primary indicator of the price it will fetch on the open market. In general, strains with higher potency (a higher % of THC) are more popular and therefore can be sold to dispensaries at a higher price. This has led to the practice of “spiking”, in which the THC content of samples sent to testing labs is artificially increased by various processes, inflating the price of the entire batch.

Businesses and consumers alike are calling for standardized testing requirements.

Businesses and consumers alike are calling for standardized testing requirements.“Edibles, especially, are currently all over the map with regard to potency,” said Green Technology Solutions CEO Wallace W. Brown. “There remains an enormous variance in testing results from lab to lab in Colorado, making it difficult for growers and retailers to know who to trust.” 

As edibles increase in popularity relative to smokable cannabis, the dispensaries that sell them will have an increasingly vested interest in assuring that their customers know exactly what they’re getting. Product branding based on the farm of origin rather than on the strain or retailer would go a long way towards ensuring customer loyalty.

For patients using cannabis to treat serious medical conditions, the demand for QA is understandably higher. “If we’re talking about patients who have conditions where mold sensitivities or suppressed immune systems are a factor, then those folks, more than anyone, should really be paying attention to the microbial tests,” according to Bobby Hines, co-owner of Confidence Analytics, a cannabis testing lab based in Washington. 

There have been no regulations governing medical marijuana (MMJ) in the state since it first became legal in 1998.

Business owners at every level on the supply chain throughout the legalization states have consistently called for the implementation of standardized, tightly-regulated product testing requirements. Though this may drive up operating costs in QA laboratories, most agree that everyone would benefit from playing by the same rules. Higher standards will make it economically unviable for smaller, corner-cutting businesses to participate in the industry, allowing existing businesses to scale as states such as Oregon transition to legal recreational use. This will create demand for more sophisticated laboratory equipment, attract skilled labor and investment, increase customer confidence and improve public opinion of the industry.