Steve Kilts: Industry Needs to Start Taking Medical Cannabis Testing, Labeling Seriously

By Steve Kilts

In this day and age we take for granted that all the food and drugs we consume are safe and consistent.

Many people take their health very seriously and read all the labels on their food to determine how many calories, proteins and carbohydrates they are consuming. A doctor may prescribe “x” milligrams of medication to be taken once per day for a particular ailment. If you have a headache you may reach for the medicine cabinet and take two aspirin – or pop an extra one if you have a migraine, as you are familiar with the dosage because it is clearly labeled in a standardized manner.

We expect this type of labeling and standardization for everything we put in our bodies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and food companies adhere to rules and regulations that protect the public from harm and ensure traceability in production. Even fast food restaurants have nutrition information available upon request.

Not so when it comes to medical cannabis. Most dispensaries and infused products companies do not test their marijuana or provide dosage information, leaving patients in the dark about what they’re ingesting.

This is a serious problem for the industry. As most medical marijuana professionals know, cannabis has many different benefits that have been shown in peer-reviewed studies to be directly related to the cannabinoid content in the plant material, i.e. cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). If a patient’s ailment could be helped by a particular cannabinoid or combination, one would presumably need to know if a particular cannabis strain, edible or infused product contains that cannabinoid and, furthermore, the precise dosage.

All too often we forget that medical cannabis is intended to be used for medical purposes, and if we don’t take that seriously, we will never be able to prove to the public that cannabis is anything more than  a recreational drug. Think about it: If patients and healthcare professionals have no idea what dosage of cannabis they are taking or recommending, how can we justify its use for medical purposes?

One of the key problems we face is the fact that dispensaries serve an overly large recreational customer base rather than people with a legitimate medical need. Therefore, dispensaries don’t take testing seriously or simply can’t justify the added expense. “Why should I test when I know my stuff is the best?” is a common phrase used by many sub-par dispensaries. Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of competition in the industry and if price is a factor, why add the cost of testing? It is tough to convince everyone that testing is a needed expense when many dispensaries are struggling just to survive.

So if it’s so important, why aren’t there requirements that every medical marijuana product be consistently tested and labeled?

The answer can be summed up in one sentence, (though it goes much further than this): Since medical marijuana is still considered illegal at the federal level, the FDA is not involved to regulate and enforce the industry to make sure that all medical marijuana products are safe, properly tested and labeled.

Without the FDA to enforce testing, this duty falls back onto the state.

In Colorado, for example, the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division (MMED) is responsible for making sure that all local medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and infused product manufacturers are properly licensed and are following state regulations. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the rulemaking process in Colorado, the focus has remained on the business side of regulation. Testing and labeling enforcement has been pushed to the back burner.

There are rules written into the Colorado laws, but the definitions for testing are so vague that they are difficult to enforce. The exact methods, processes and frequency of testing are not defined. Ideally, the Colorado MMED should maintain a list of approved and licensed testing companies that have demonstrated that they are testing to a standard that can give accurate and consistent results to the Colorado cannabis industry. However, the industry as a whole just isn’t there yet.

It’s the same scene in other states, where testing and labeling is simply not on the radar of local officials.

Because of the lack of testing regulation, the industry doesn’t take it seriously. Some dispensaries don’t believe they can get consistent and accurate results, while others don’t see the need to test at all. Most simply can’t justify the cost of testing because there isn’t enough demand from their customer base. Only when testing is properly defined and enforced will everyone will be on an equal playing field and all have to burden the cost. This burden will be passed on to the patients, but patients will pay the minimal extra cost without much thought.

If we want this industry to be taken seriously for the medical value that cannabis can bring, we need to help drive testing regulations and mandatory testing. We need to insist that all cannabis products are tested whether we are selling those products or using them for our own medical needs. This will help bring more credibility and transparency to MMJ, which will benefit patients and the industry as a whole.

Steve Kilts is the vice president of operations at CannLabs, a Denver-based medical marijuana testing company.