Nearly 20% Of California Pot Products Fail Safety Testing

By Kelly Burch 09/13/18

Products like edibles and oils were much more likely to fail testing than marijuana buds.

Chemist testing cannabis extract  in the laboratory for medical purposes

Nearly 20% of legal marijuana products in California are failing mandated safety testing, a figure that the industry says has more to do with an inefficient and inaccurate testing system than deficient products. 

As of July 1, marijuana products sold on the legal market in California were subject to testing for pesticides and mold, and to ensure that the potency advertised matches the actual potency of the product.

Since July, nearly 11,000 samples were inspected and nearly 2,000 rejected, according to a report by ABC News

While some growers and distributors are unhappy with the state testing, the testing bureau says that the new screening process has been implemented successfully overall. 

"Mandatory statewide testing is a new thing and it's going to take some time for everything to run smoothly, but on the whole we're pleased with how things are progressing," said Bureau of Cannabis Control spokesman Alex Traverso.

The California Growers Association, an industry group, disagrees. "Testing is currently costly, slow, and inconsistent," the growers association said in a recent letter to the state. 

Sixty-five percent of the samples that failed testing were rejected because of mislabeling, e.g. the potency advertised on the product label did not match the potency of the product. State law requires that the potency (which measures THC content), falls within a 10% margin of error. If a batch of product is even slightly outside that margin, it will be rejected and must be relabeled. 

The California Cannabis Manufacturers Association, another industry group, says that this can happen when labs do not correctly test a sample, but right now there is no way for manufacturers to appeal a lab’s finding. The association is working to change that. 

"Even if the lab admits it made an error, there is no way to change those results," said Bryce Berryessa, an association board member who is CEO of TreeHouse dispensary in Santa Cruz County and president of La Vida Verde, which produces infused cookies. "Labs are not perfect. Mistakes get made.”

About 90% of buds that were tested in California passed, while products like edibles and oils were much more likely to fail testing, suggesting that potency is more often inaccurate with those products. 

The next most common reason for failed testing was pesticide levels that were too high (400 batches were flagged for this reason). And only about 100 samples failed testing because of contaminants or mold. However, this may be because state law only mentions a few specific types of mold in regards to cannabis.

Because of this, Santa Ana-based testing company Cannalysis is urging the state to use a test that is already in place for food and pharmaceuticals, which could catch more potentially contaminated cannabis. 

The regulators need to "create a bigger net to catch things,” said Swetha Kaul, the company's chief scientific officer who sits on the board of the California Cannabis Industry Association. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.