Here at HighYields, we’re constantly striving to give you the best information on the cannabis industry. But what about the industry itself? As the legal cannabis industry emerges, it’s vital that we demand the same checks and balances from our industry as we do all other markets. We need to ensure that products are tested and safe, that we’re not being ripped off, and that there are consumer protections in place.

Since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado, Washington, and beyond, the term “Lab Shopping” has been thrown around as a form of criticism. Lab Shopping is essentially the act of purposely purchasing cannabis from a lab that is known (or suspected) to produce subpar product. The claim is that doing so will allow consumers to sell the product at a higher price when they later resell it. However, lab shopping as a form of cannabis fraud is not a new concept, and it has been around even before the legalization of cannabis in many states. (For a deep dive into lab shopping, check out this article .)

Cannabis, we have a problem. The legalization of cannabis for adult use in California has led to an increase in demand for high-potency cannabis in recent years. Nowadays, many distributors set a minimum THC content in the products they sell. If smokable flower products do not have a COA showing that their THC content is higher than 20% or more, chances are that many pharmacies will not have them on their shelves. Unfortunately, such requirements only put unnecessary pressure on the industry and mislead the consumer.

Laboratory storage: Where the problems are

Laboratory tests for efficacy analysis are not new, but they have become more prevalent in recent years due to the increased demand for flowers with high efficacy. Unfortunately, many manufacturers submit valid, certified certificates of analysis to the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) showing two to three times the actual potency value.

We at InfiniteCAL purchased products from drugstore shelves and found significant discrepancies between our analysis and the report the manufacturer submitted to the BCC. So how does it work? There are several factors that create the perfect storm when testing cannabis.

Power supply problems

Many users are still unaware that THC potency is not the only factor in determining the quality of cannabis, and unwittingly contribute to the demand for fraudulent testing and analysis. For culture pioneers and ethics labs, it is alarming to see profit-seeking manufacturers and testing centers falsifying data to make it more attractive to the unsuspecting consumer.

What happens is that manufacturers go to the labs and ask: I get 30% THC in this lab. What can you do? If they find that our COA indicates that their flower tested lower than expected, they go to another lab to get higher results. Unfortunately, there are too many laboratories that want to meet the requirements.

Lab Shopping: Highlighting the Need for Checks and Balances in Cannabis

Recently, I saw a similar certificate of authenticity stating that this particular flower had been tested at 54% THC. By understanding the genetics of cannabis, we know that this is not possible. Another product I reviewed claimed that after diluting an 88% THC distillate with 10-15% terpenes, the final potency test showed 92% THC. You can’t reduce the product and expect an increase in power. Finally, the third product we examined claimed a total cannabinoid content of 98% (only seven cannabinoids considered) with 10% terpenes for a total content of 108%.

These labs only embarrass themselves in front of professionals, mislead laypeople and fly under the BCC’s radar with basic mathematical errors.

Anticipation of pesticides

Shockingly, overestimating potency is not the most notorious test fraud in the cannabis industry. If a producer fails to have 1,000 gallons of cannabis oil tested by a pesticide laboratory, he or she risks losing millions of dollars, or having the test redone by a less scrupulous laboratory.

Photo: Michelle Tribe, Flickr

Lab Shopping: Highlighting the Need for Checks and Balances in Cannabis

As the industry continues to grow and new labs pop up around every corner, producers and manufacturers have learned which labs may be used and which may not. Some laboratories can miss up to ten times the active concentration of a pesticide and report it as not detected. So if the manufacturer doesn’t detect the pesticide in one lab, they know the other four won’t see it.

In fact, labs sent my clients promotional materials that guaranteed concordance of lab results without ever receiving a sample for testing. Today, these companies not only mislead consumers, but can even harm them.

Simple correction

There is only one critical factor missing from cannabis trials that could quickly solve these problems: Checks and balances. The BCC may do only one of the following two things:

Laboratory Accuracy Test

InfiniteCAL also operates in Michigan, where the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) already has a system in place to ensure that laboratories meet the strictest testing standards. The MRA automatically flags any ACO where the test exceeds a certain percentage and requires the product to be retested in multiple labs.

Laboratories are required to maintain a stock of materials. Thus, if laboratory A’s test results are abnormally high, laboratories B, C and D are instructed to retest the material to compare the data. If lab A reports 40% THC and all the other labs report 18%, it’s easy to see that lab A made a mistake.

Lab Shopping: Highlighting the Need for Checks and Balances in Cannabis

Secret shopping

By simply buying products off the shelf and having them blindly tested by other labs, the BCC can easily determine if the COA present is correct. They already have all the data in Metrc, so this would be a quick and easy fix that could potentially solve the problem overnight.

For example, at InfiniteCAL we have already purchased 30 samples of Blue Dream flowers from different growers with COA certified potency ranging from 16% to 38%. Genetically, we know that the Blue Dream strain does not produce a high THC level. When we tested the samples we bought, almost all of those samples had results from mid-teens to low twenties.

Laboratories must not be profit centres

At InfiniteCAL, we contacted the labs in California where discrepancies were found to help find and correct the testing errors. All too often we hear excuses:

  • If I solve my problem, I lose my customers.
  • I’m just a businessman who owns a laboratory; I know nothing about chemistry.
  • My pharmacist ruined everything, it’s her fault!

If you have a laboratory, you are responsible for quality control. We are not here to make money, we are here to act as public safety officers, to make sure these products are safe for consumers and to provide them with detailed information about what they are putting in their bodies. Be professional and remember that you are testing for the consumer, not the manufacturer.

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