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Issues in Lab Testing Cannabis Products: A Work in Progress in State Level Programs

November 18, 2022

As states continue to advance cannabis legalization efforts and President Biden orders a review of federal cannabis policy, the issue of lab testing for cannabinoid potency and contaminants in cannabis is a key issue for legislators and regulators to address.

In early August the Medical Cannabis Research Center posted an article summary about how hemp-derived THC and CBD products have no regulatory framework, specifically when it comes to lab testing for potency and contaminants. This lack of testing framework is distinctly different than state run medical cannabis programs, like the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana (PAMMJ) Program that have posted guidance and requirements for lab testing products.

While the PAMMJ Program does have independent lab testing requirements and standards, the issue of lab testing for potency and contaminants is still a headache for grower/processors and patients alike. The issues in the PAMMJ have been so prevalent that the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently voted to require grower/processors to have two labs test products at both the time of harvest and again just before the product is packaged. Though this change is widely disputed to have any impact on creating meaningful change in uncovering inflated THC potency. The new

After speaking with Jon Cohn, Executive Vice-President for Research at Verano and CEO of Agronomed Pharmaceuticals LLC, and Sarah Ahrens, founder and CEO of True Labs for Cannabis LLC, the issues with lab testing standards run deeper than adding more tests and need to be addressed on both a federal and state level.

Both Cohn and Ahrens noted the lack of standardization across states and among testing companies and emphasized the role the federal government needs to play in helping to create uniform guidelines for cannabis testing. This lack of standardization includes the quality of the machinery and scientific rigor of testing companies that can often cause variability in results. Cohn noted that in his dealings with testing companies in PA, they often had different standard operating procedures in everything from quality assurances, intake and storage processes, selection of the plant processes, dilution methods, to different testing protocols in testing. Ahrens noted that there will always be variability in cannabis testing as it is a living organism, and it is almost impossible to reproduce exactly as it was in a previous batch. This means that we need to eliminate all the variables that can be controlled such as human errors that Jon Cohn mentioned. Ahrens also pointed out that there needs to be a state audit process for adherence while also ensuring that the regulations are not too strict. This was apparent in New York’s medical cannabis program when the testing was exclusively run by the state and caused significant product shortages through delays in testing turnaround times, according to Cohn and Ahrens.

These recommendations have been echoed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in its two-year report where officials asked the State Legislature and the Governor’s office for more power in auditing the approved laboratories. The report said: “the Department would like to have more statutory authority over laboratories that are approved for medical marijuana testing. The Department would be better positioned to ensure laboratories are designed to detect, reduce, and correct deficiencies in a laboratory’s internal analytical process prior to the release of product results, are operating in compliance, and are offering fair business operations to all permittees.”

Ultimately federal legalization would be able to address this by empowering the FDA and USDA to set uniform testing guidelines and audit procedures. This would ensure consistent quality standards across the cannabis industry and provide state legislatures the imperative to grant power to state departments of health to better regulating cannabis testing practices.