By Matt Walstatter
As the cannabis industry continues to mature and new states adopt marijuana legislation, the topic of laboratory testing is arising with increasing frequency.
Many markets now require cannabis businesses to test products through licensed labs. Other states still haven’t established regulations in this area – but patients are increasingly demanding access to tested marijuana and infused products.
Either way, cultivators, processors and retailers in these markets face some tough questions. Here’s an overview of issues that arise around testing and some strategies to address them, from my point of view as both a grower and a dispensary owner.
To Test or Not to Test?
In markets without testing regulations, cannabusiness owners face a difficult decision on whether to test.
I believe that as purveyors of cannabis, we owe it to our customers to make sure that the products they receive are untainted, unadulterated and safe when consumed in the manner in which they are intended. Testing for mold, pesticide residue and residual solvents is the least we can do.
In order to use cannabis safely, customers also need information about potency. Cannabis flowers, extracts and edibles are powerful products with potentially unpleasant side effects. They can easily be overused, especially if the consumer has no way to measure and compare potency.
I can understand why some cannabusiness owners are reticent to test. It can be expensive (more on the costs below), especially if it is not required and competitors decline to test.
Still, testing adds value, which can offset the downsides. Not only do customers appreciate the information, but performing a test that isn’t required shows your customers that their health and well being matters to you.
Who Should Test
In Oregon, the law says that the dispensary is responsible for assuring that lab testing is performed. But we often rely on our growers, processors and edibles manufacturers to bring us tested products.
When vendors bring tested products, it signals that they are serious about their craft and take pride in their work. It also shows a level of professionalism, which I value greatly. And, of course, it saves me time and expense.
Testing also benefits the vendor in a number of ways. At Pure Green, we don’t pay for anything until it has cleared the lab, so vendors can get paid sooner if they bring a tested product. It also gives a grower or processor metrics to use in evaluating their products and their performance.
As a dispensary owner and a grower, I think it makes sense for vendors to bear the initial burden of testing for a number of reasons. In most industries, a product’s manufacturer is ultimately responsible for its safety. I see no reason why the cannabis industry should be any different.
In terms of cost, the negotiated price between the vendor and the shop – as well as the amount the customer pays – factor into testing expenses. This remains true regardless of who actually pays the lab.
Our shop will pay a little more for the same product if it is tested, a little less if not. Either way, the grower, the facility and the customer all absorb a share of the cost of testing, although ultimately most of the burden is passed along to the consumer.
How to Find a Lab
Deciding on a lab can be a major challenge for a grower, processor, infused products company or dispensary.
If your state offers or requires an accreditation for labs, you should start with that list.
Whether or not the lab is accredited, make certain that you perform your due diligence. Meet the owner of the lab, the lab director (or chief scientist) and the lab techs if possible. Ask them about their equipment and request a visit. Most labs will be glad to show you around.
Don’t become complacent once you choose a lab. Send the same sample to multiple labs or send multiple samples of the same product to the same lab in order to cross-check and ensure consistency.
Price is always an important factor, but as with most products and services, cheaper isn’t always better. Find out exactly what services a lab provides. Some test for cannabinoids but can’t perform full terpene profiles. Some can’t test edibles or don’t have the right equipment to test for residual solvents.
Ask about their turnaround time for results. It might be worth paying a little more for a lab that returns results in five days instead of two weeks.
How Much it Costs
Cost and sample size vary from lab to lab and from state to state.
In Oregon, a fully compliant test for mold, mildew, pesticides and potency costs between $125-$200. Most labs require a sample of two to five grams for flowers and between one half to two grams of concentrate. Running potency only costs $50-$100.
Our state requires batch testing, which means that every batch of every product must be tested. A test will cover any flower of a specific strain harvested in the same place at the same time. This means a grower or facility must perform a separate test for every strain in a garden after every harvest. It also means that flowers of the same strain grown in different gardens will require separate testing.
For concentrates and edibles, each batch that is processed requires its own test. The state does allow for pre-testing the plant material for mold, mildew and pesticides. In that case the processor must test each individual batch made from that material for potency only, as it has already been cleared for mold, mildew and pesticides.
If your jurisdiction doesn’t require testing, you must weigh the cost against the benefits listed above. Following the batch testing protocol is the most thorough approach to guaranteeing the safety and potency of your products. Random spot checks will be less comprehensive but are better than nothing.
Eventually you will see some results from your lab. It may seem silly to say, but read these carefully. I have missed important information more than once on my first reading of a lab report. Keep an eye out for discrepancies or numbers that just don’t make sense. Make sure to raise any issues with the lab promptly.
If you are a grower or a processor, make copies to provide to shop owners. If you are a dispensary or a recreational shop, find a way to display the results so that patients can see.
We keep a laminated card with THC and CBD content on our display counter. We also have binders by the register with copies of lab reports and we print the THC and CBD contents on the labels of all products.
The Bottom Line
While it may seem confusing and complicated to some, lab testing offers the cannabis industry myriad benefits by providing objective metrics to compare and value products. It can also help insure the safety of cannabis consumers and furnish greatly needed knowledge to recreational customers and medical patients alike.
Offering lab-tested products distinguishes a grower, processor or retail business from competitors.
If you ask the right questions and choose a lab wisely you can leverage the extra expense of testing to add value to your products and services.
Matt Walstatter and his wife own Pure Green, a dispensary in Portland, Oregon