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Why Is Cannabis Lab Testing So Important?

by Staff

There’s nothing more American than brand loyalty. It applies to the cars we drive, the food we buy, and the clothes we wear; it’s even starting to happen with the weed we smoke. As the young marijuana market continues to develop, consumers are starting to find companies they can trust to make products they love, leading to a passionately monogamous relationship we see in more established industries thanks, in part, to cannabis lab testing results.

Because of this, it’s important for companies to be consistent in the products they make. Dunkin’ needs to keep making that medium roast formula that makes waking up a little bit easier; White Claw has to keep making that Mango-flavored formula that makes people yell “Right! It’s not that bad!”; Barefoot needs to continue making that Pink Moscato formula that people love on a sunny day.

It’s often easy to trust companies in other industries to have their production process so dialed in that you’ll never have to shop elsewhere. But in cannabis, it’s often harder to find producers that will provide the exact same experience, each and every time you consume their work. Consistent, high-quality cannabis lab testing can change that. 

man holding cannabis lab test tube

What Is Cannabis Lab Testing? 

Cannabis testing labs exist in each medical and/or adult-use cannabis market across the country. These laboratories are responsible for quality assurance testing and verifying the purity of all cannabis products. All of THC and CBD percentages you see on pre-roll tubes as well as the terpenes you see named on the side of topical creams come from cannabis testing labs.

The lab test results are called a certificate of analysis. In quality assurance, they are proof that a product passes the requirements for safe human consumption, set forth by a state’s cannabis board. Because cannabis laws vary from state-to-state, so do the minimum requirements for which everything your cannabis product has to be tested. 

What’s Being Tested In Cannabis Labs? 

There are multiple tests that should be run on cannabis, and all the products that come from it. This includes testing for cannabinoids; terpenes; foreign material; pesticides; heavy metals; mycotoxins; microbial impurities; moisture content and water activity; and solvents and extraction processing chemicals.

In a perfect world, each and every cannabis company would test each and every batch of each and every product for all of the categories you see listed above. Unfortunately, mostly due to the high costs associated with laboratory analysis, cannabis companies often operate at their state’s bare minimum.

For example, Washington mandates cannabis lab testing on potency, moisture, foreign matter, microbiological and mycotoxin screening, residual solvents, and heavy metals; but there is no mandatory testing for pesticides. We’re just operating on the honor system in the Evergreen State.

Conversely, in California, the requirements are the most stringent possible. According to Science Daily, in California, every batch of cannabis has to be tested for more than 100 contaminants before it can be sold to consumers by a licensed retailer. The safety testing laws — the most stringent in the nation — include testing for 66 pesticides with tolerance levels lower than allowable by any other agricultural product.

The differing regulations mean different costs as well. Average lab testing costs in Washington hover around $100 to $160 per sample. Some companies may even go as low as $60. In California, testing can range from $500 to over $700 per sample batch. The high costs attributed to such comprehensive testing can be a major barrier to entry for smaller producers and processors who aren’t backed by millions of dollars in private capital like some of the best-funded cannabis conglomerates. It’s also important to note that California cannabis labs are not required to make their costs known publicly, making each company’s potential costs completely variable.

For a deeper look at the costs of California cannabis lab testing and their effects on the state’s industry, take some time to study the Costs of Mandatory Cannabis Testing in California research article published in California Agriculture

Why Is Cannabis Lab Testing Important For Companies?

Though expensive, there are multiple reasons cannabis companies should pay for such extreme testing on their cannabis products. To discuss its importance, we hopped on a call with Pat Reynolds, Operations Director for Washington’s Confidence Analytics, a top-tier cannabis testing lab.

“Lab testing is important to producers and processors, because maintaining a testing history with a lab that knows what they’re doing and gives you accurate reads on your products through their various stages of development, really does help you with your product development,” said Reynolds. 

“If we’re testing somebody’s flower over and over and over again, some of these companies really dial it right in. It’s like 22 percent THC, 23 percent THC, 22 percent THC, 22.5 percent THC, every single time. Then we’ll get an 18 percent THC and we’ll see some seeds in [the sample]. And then we’re like, oop! Your plants are [becoming hermaphrodites]. Because when we can see that in the data and we can look back on it historically, and when we know somebody’s consistent in what they’re doing and see it change, that allows us to reach out to a customer and say they may have a problem in their process,” added Reynolds.

This is why it’s so important for cannabis companies to work with reputable cannabis labs. Sure, there’s always going to be one out there that can give you the lowest price and bare minimum testing to get your products on the shelf, but how much is that really helping your business if your products have inconsistent effects that will inevitably turn consumers off?

What Happens To Marijuana That Fails Testing?

Failed cannabis tests can mean huge losses for cannabis companies. If a company’s product doesn’t pass the minimum testing requirements, it can’t be sold in stores. If their products can’t be sold in stores, companies can’t make any money. 

For some companies, that means thousands of working hours and millions of dollars down the drain. According to the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources study, in 2017, the second year after testing began, 8 percent of the total samples in Washington state failed one or more tests. Colorado state mandates tests on residual solvents, microbial, mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides, and potency. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division reported that during the first six months of 2018, 8.9 percent of total samples of adult-use cannabis failed testing. According to MJ Biz Daily, in 2018, close to 20 percent of cannabis products in California failed testing for potency and purity. This is a huge reason that some companies only get tested per the bare minimum. If you don’t get tested for everything, the chances of failure are lowered.  

According to Reynolds, “In Washington state, you don’t have to test for pesticides; but if you do, and you fail, then you’re supposed to either destroy or remediate your crop. But there’s no mandated pesticide testing, unless it’s with the Department of Health, to qualify for medical patients. What they can do is wave bye-bye to that flower, and give it to somebody for oil. And what they can do through the extraction process is pull out the pesticides as they’re doing the extraction, and then what you get on the other side is something that is clean, so that’s sellable.”

While remediation seems like a simple way to turn lemons into lemonade, that process of turning your flower into oil still includes the costs of extraction equipment, labor, packaging, and having to get your products retested in the end, with the possibility of failure still looming. That’s on top of the fact that companies have to lose out on any flower sales revenue that they’ve included in the financial plan for the year. Because of this, failed lab testing can often spell ruin for companies, especially the smaller ones with less private capital for emergencies.

Why Is Cannabis Lab Testing Important For Consumers?

For consumers, the importance of quality assurance, and finding companies that have it as the highest priority, always comes down to trust.

As a consumer, there’s nothing worse than purchasing some fire weed one visit to the store, then you buy the same thing the next time and it doesn’t offer the same experience. Now you have to go back to the drawing board i.e. dispensary menu and spend $60 more on your next best guess. Because buying cannabis products is always a guess until you find the right ones. Proper cannabis lab testing with consistent results, backed by publicly available certificates of analysis, is the biggest way cannabis companies can tell customers that, “We care about you and your experience.”

On why cannabis lab testing is so important for consumers, Reynolds can think of a couple reasons it matter for the industry. “It’s important for consumers and for people to have faith for a new market like cannabis. They need to know that correct rigor is being applied to the products that are available on the market. That’s one reason why it’s important to the market, and to the consumers, and to the state that gets the revenue from it,” said Reynolds.

“While the stakes may be high for recreational consumers, they don’t compare to the medical side of the industry. As a doctor prescribing medication for patients, you need to be assured that what you’re prescribing is accurate over time, it isn’t changing. So that’s why lab testing is important, and why cannabis lab testing, in particular, is in need of global standards, added Reynolds.”

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