It seems to be a pattern now. A new state that has come online with fully legal adult-use cannabis is having issues surrounding its laboratory testing procedures. First it was Oregon, which had a serious shortage of laboratories, driving up the prices for cannabis. Now it seems it’s California’s time for laboratory woes.
So what’s going wrong?
Well, there’s a few different problems, I’ll enumerate them here:
- Some labs seem to be falsifying their tests, passing an abnormally high percentage of samples. There is a general sense of a “pay-to-play” atmosphere with certain labs.
- Statewide, there was a failure rate of nearly 20% for samples submitted for testing in the first two months. The problem has recently improved to a 14% failure rate, which is still high, but not as bad. This problem may not be the laboratories’ faults either.
- There are only 57 certified testing facilities for the entire state. In a smaller state, that might be sufficient, but the California market is huge, and there is a lot of cannabis to be tested. This can lead to delays and potentially product loss.
What’s causing the problems?
Well, like any new market, there are speed bumps along the way. California was the first state in the USA to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, and thus served as a testing grounds of sorts. For a long time, regulations were relatively minimal and difficult to enforce. Additionally, the federal government continued to carry out raids and enforcement on a federal level until President Obama officially signaled the Justice Department would no longer pursue cannabis cases in states that had legalized cannabis with the Cole Memo.
With the passage of Proposition 64 that legalized adult-use cannabis in California, the laws concerning cannabis production and regulations changed to much stricter standards. For some long-time growers, the change might seem like a whiplash, despite a relatively long period before implementation of the standards. Some growers who had previously operated in a relatively gray space now found themselves having to change their methods to accommodate these stricter standards.
This would explain the high failure rate, which is probably not the fault of the laboratories themselves. Since the failure rate seems to be improving pretty rapidly (20% failure rate to 14% failure rate in a few months), people are starting to improve.
As for the test falsifications and “pay-to-play” environment for laboratories, this issue may stem from the same source. Prior to Proposition 64, testing laboratories were not required by law and had no standard operating procedure enumerated for themselves. Many laboratories offered their services because it made for good marketing for the cannabis producers. Producers could “back up” their claims from laboratory tests. This created a system that incentivized laboratories providing higher numbers to their clients than strictly controlled tests would actually show.
Some companies continued this trend into Proposition 64 implementation, but finally got caught. So while at first glance, it might appear that Proposition 64 is the source of these problems, it’s actually fixing a longstanding problem.
As for the limited number of licensed laboratories, the situation is changing pretty rapidly. During the course of my research for this article, I came upon other articles that referenced much lower numbers of laboratories. Here’s a rough timeline of licensed laboratories:
- July 15th, 2017: 31 licensed labs (start of official testing period)
- December 3rd, 2018: 47 licensed labs (+16 in 5 months)
- January 3rd, 2019 (time of writing): 57 licensed labs (+10 in one month)
In other words, California has almost doubled its number of licensed laboratories in 6 months. This is good news for cultivators and distributors, and it seems likely that this trend will continue.
From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like California’s cannabis testing laboratories are actually facing speed bumps that one could have reasonably predicted, given the state’s history when it comes to cannabis. What seems to be happening are normal growing pains as California’s market matures, and it is likely that the problems we are seeing will gradually smooth out.
But you know what? I could be horribly wrong. If I am, I’ll follow up this article with another detailing how I was wrong. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the survey below or on the forum!
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About the Author
Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.