By Cooper Temple
As the legal market for the Cannabacea family continues to grow and expand, so, too, do the industries associated with production and distribution of products in the family. One of these is the testing industry, which is currently valued at $910 million and set to reach a valuation of $2 billion by 2024. Because recreational usage of plants in the family is becoming increasingly widespread, producers are taking steps to ensure that consumers stay safe from adulterants that may contaminate end-products. Any product purchased from a licensed distributor is required to be tested for contaminants based on the laws of each state. States in which these products are legal are bolstering their regulations to include a variety of required tests. California, for instance, recently passed its final set of testing standards on the last day of 2018.
Within the testing market are a number of required procedures – determined independently state-by-state – including potency levels, allergen testing, heavy metal screening, pesticide testing, total microbial load, mycotoxin testing, and pathogen testing for salmonella and E.coli. Each dispensary is supposed to perform these tests via a state-licensed third-party laboratory. A significant problem, however, is that there is no federal standard for quality of labs or guidelines for testing requirements. Quality of labs and integrity of tests can vary widely between and within states. In California, for instance, pesticide testing was based on an honor system until July 2018.
Once regulations were passed, though, the frequency of hazard detection increased. In September 2018, for example, it was reported than almost 20% of California products had “failed tests for potency and purity since the state started requiring checks on July 1.” And, because producers are not regulated by the FDA, the conditions of the facilities themselves can lead to the growth of dangerous pathogens like Salmonella. In the 1980s, a multistate outbreak was traced back to the plant.
As legalization becomes more widespread, the next steps for the U.S. should be to regulate testing more consistently, set nationwide standards for acceptable levels of contaminants, and ensure that labs subscribe to equally robust testing procedures. A good model to follow is Canada, where certain products became recreationally legal in October 2018. Each province controls the sale of products, but the nation determines the requirements for regulations and licensing. To protect the growing number of consumers, improved testing regulations for pesticides, pathogens, and heavy metals should be a priority.