Cannabis Testing In Alaska Shows Cracks In Lab Land

A new report from the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office and the Department of Environmental Conservation found that labs testing marijuana for potency were delivering very different results.

Different labs using similar methodology should have reported similar results, instead, the results came back and they weren’t even close. For example, the test took a marijuana muffin, cookie crumbs, capsules and dried flower and brought them to the only two testing labs in the state. The results delivered a large margin of error between the two.

The report said “Each of two muffins in three different retail packages were cut in half and submitted as separate samples. One half of each muffin went to CannTest and the other half of each muffin went to Steep Hill for testing and reporting.” The report said that CannTest said it had a strength of 5.2, while the Steep Hill lab said the strength was 11.9. The state apparently can’t even determine which lab is correct and which isn’t.

“We need some type of standardization for the labs,” said Jeff Doughty, CEO of Capital Analysis a company focused on testing in the recreational cannabis market. “Competency isn’t the issue. Plus, we already have accreditation processes. However, there could be improvements in proficiency testing.”

The Dark Side Of Testing

In addition to inaccuracies among labs, Doughty said that another issue is brewing and that is that some companies are actually paying for potency. He called it the dark side of cannabis. He said that cannabis companies are not accounting for test failures in their business models. A rigorous lab may find all kinds of things wrong with a company’s harvest causing the company to have to destroy expensive inventory. The word gets out and then cannabis companies quit going to the “tough” lab, which causes the lab to rethink how its testing cannabis in order to survive.

“Just because they’re scientists doesn’t mean they won’t do this,” said Doughty. “Producers are also learning to take their samples to various labs to get the best results.” As in the example of the testing in Alaska, a producer may choose to stick with the lab where it gets the results it wants.

Doughty is concerned that this is going to create a race to the bottom for labs. “I could see where big players, the kind of size where one customer alone can support an entire lab will get great numbers. Then the smaller competitor that only brings the lab a little business might end up with deflated numbers.”

One way labs have tried to self-correct is that they redefine what is considered a test fail. They still complete the test, but fewer customers are called out for failing

“It’s not an insurmountable problem,” said Doughty. “We just need to use intelligent processes when crafting our regulations.”

Recommendations

The Alaska report recommended 1) a complete assessment of lab operations as a follow-up to that of A2LA. Essential items to cover in this assessment are verifying the implementation of critical parameters (e.g. incubation temperatures and times, calibrations of support equipment), procedures (e.g. laboratory homogenization and sub-sampling protocols), and general adherence to the laboratory SOPs) 2)
accuracy controls (including all applicable positive controls for microbial testing and frequency) must be incorporated into lab activities, and 3) a regulation update that incorporates the framework for regular oversight of the laboratories.

Debra Borchardt

Debra BorchardtDebra Borchardt

Debra Borchardt is the CEO, Co-Founder, and Editor-In-Chief of GMR. She has covered the cannabis industry for several years at Forbes, Seeking Alpha and TheStreet. Prior to becoming a financial journalist, Debra was a Vice President at Bear Stearns where she held a Series 7 and Registered Investment Advisor license. Debra has a Masters degree in Business Journalism from New York University.


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