The California Bureau of Cannabis Control just released data from its first batch of recreational marijuana tests since new safety requirements for the state came into effect on July 1. One in five samples tested failed to make the grade. Reasons for this include wrong labeling and contamination from processing chemicals, bacteria, and pesticides.
As growers and product manufacturers have been scrambling to get their products compliant and to market over the past few weeks, the results of the state’s stringent testing requirements are leaving retailers with huge shortages in stock. According to Nick Rinella, chief operating officer of Verdant Distribution, a Long Beach-based distributor, the new rules caused a shortage of buds early this month.
The new requirements for testing also caused massive backlogs at already busy laboratories. Thus far, the state has only issued licenses to 31 testing centers, most in Northern California, with many not yet taking customers. Because of this, Rinella said that testing cannabis for safety could take two weeks. This week, the state recalled its first pot product from shelves for failing pesticide tests.
On New Year’s Day, California launched its legal recreational pot market. It also imposed rules and regulations for the industry, some of which came with a six-month grace period for businesses to comply, including one that mandates they only sell weed products tested for safety and quality and a state-licensed laboratory. That grace period ended on July 1.
In the month since these regulations came into full effect, laboratories have tested 5,268 batches of weed, 20 percent of which failed to meet standards set out by the state. According to Verdant Distribution’s founder, Brian Blatz, that percentage would likely be even higher if businesses were not paying independent laboratories to test their products first, before sending them through the state’s official supply chain.
“Smart brands are pretesting first,” Blatz explained, “then testing again in the labs.” Over two thirds, 68 percent to be exact, of weed samples that failed the state’s tests failed because of making inaccurate claims on the labels. Specifically, the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s spokesperson, Alex Traverso, says that labels are mostly overstating the quantity of THC, the “high” compound, which is misleading.
Recalls from High Pesticide Levels
About 19 percent, almost one in five, of the failed weed samples were the result of pesticides. In some cases, the pot tested positive for pesticides completely forbidden. In others, they tested with higher levels than considered safe under state law. The Bloom Brand, a Los Angeles-based company, announced a recall of four vaporizer cartridges with cannabis oil on Wednesday last week.
The cartridges did not meet standards of the state for safe levels of the pesticide Myclobutanil. This is a fungicide frequently used on food crops, such as almonds and grapes. However, when heated, it becomes dangerously unsafe, and since marijuana users’ inhale vapors from heated oil cartridges, this is a major cause for concern.
Between July 1 and July 19, The Bloom Brand sold unsafe cartridges to 100 recreational outlets across the state. It is not yet evident exactly how these products made it to market after July 1 with such high levels of Myclobutanil. In a press release, the company said, “We are working closely with state officials to remedy this issue and expect clean, compliant products to be back on shelves in three weeks.”
According to Micah Anderson president of the Southern California Responsible Growers Council, a marijuana trade group, some pot is testing for pesticides that growers are not even using. He says that product from several cultivators who are growing on former vineyards, for example, failed these tests because of previous soil contamination, with stricter pesticide rules for weed than for wine.
Cliff Yeh, co-founder of Encore Labs, a marijuana testing facility in Pasadena, said that, “For growers, this will definitely be the biggest challenge that they face.” The state bans or regulates heavily more than 60 different pesticides. Weed can pass almost all the guidelines for pesticide limits, but Yeh says that if they fail on just a few, then the whole batch fails.
Roughly six percent of failures occurring in state laboratories since July 1 have been because of microbe contamination, such a bacteria and mold. The most common microbial impurities showing up are the bacteria E. coli, the fungus aspergillus, and salmonella, all of which can thrive in cannabis that is not stored correctly under careful humidity controls.
A further five percent of cannabis samples that are failing involve concentrated oils and waxes that are testing positive for residual solvents, such as isopropanol, butane, and ethanol. Manufacturers use these chemicals to extract THC, CBD, and other active cannabinoids from marijuana plants. If the latest testing requirements are not stringent enough, they will get even stricter on December 31.
At the start of 2019, the state will also be testing all marijuana products for heavy metals and mycotoxins, dangerous toxins produced by mold. Laboratories will also be testing for terpenoids levels, which are the organic compounds responsible for the distinct smell and taste of pot, and which play a role in the effects of different strains.
Additionally, all pot-infused edibles will have to undergo testing for moisture content, just to ensure they are not breeding grounds for mold and bacteria. Since California is still drafting permanent regulations for the industry, it is expectable that there will be even more adjustments to its testing control to check for other potential health and safety hazards.
However, just three weeks after the latest testing rules came into effect, Rinella says that shelves at retail outlets are starting to refill now with products deemed safe for consumers. Profits for most licensed stores remain thin as they struggle to get through a newly legal market, Blatz explained. Those that survive will compete heavily. “Because the market is still maturing,” he said, “there is not really brand loyalty yet, but it is coming.”