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

, 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.

8 comments on “Steve Kilts: Industry Needs to Start Taking Medical Cannabis Testing, Labeling Seriously
  1. MMC Owner on

    I find it interesting that this was written by someone with a vested interest in a testing company.

    Until test labs are using the same Standard Operating Procedures and using the same test standards for baselines, this will never happen.

    As an MMC owner, I refuse to spend money on a subjective test to *maybe* let patients know the potency of their medicine.

  2. Smply Di on

    If we are in this industry at all, we have a vested interest in having the medicine tested. The tests they do are not subjective, but if you are concerned with other labs that do not use proper testing measures, then you need to advocate for an industry accepted testing proceedure. The “underground” mentality of not spending any money for quality assurance is ignorant as a business owner. Testing will become mandatory – it’s just a matter of time.

  3. Breast Cancer Survivor on

    MMC Owner – you shouldn’t be running a Medical Marijuana Center. Your opinion shows the community that people like you should not be in business. Please disclose your business so that patients like me can boycott your center and push for authorities to close you down.

    Testing the product and publicly disclosing the results protects the patient from unwanted chemicals, dust mites and mold from being passed on to the customer.

    You obviously do not know your customer, know the business, nor care about the patient.

  4. MMC Owner on

    I look forward to the day when there is an industry accepted standard.

    Right now all I see is labs saying this lab is bad because of this and this other lab is bad because of that.

    When they come together and create some industry standards, I’ll get behind them. Until then, don’t count on my support.

  5. Jim Gabrisch on

    Marijuana of a true medical grade cannot be sold as buds, nugs, shake, or joints made from those.
    Since potency, composition, presence of bugs, pesticides, and mold will vary from plant to plant (and even between parts of the same plant),
    to truly asses the strength and composition of the product, one would have to grind up pounds of cured flowers from the same strain,
    test and document that particular batch, and sell the powdered product (Or make up large portions of brownie mix, tincture, etc, test and document the specs on that particular batch. Those that prefer the aesthetics of fine bud would still have that option, but claiming that any
    given nug is “X% THC, CBD” or whatever is really a crap-shoot, and not clinically accurate.
    The price of testing should go down over time, but patients desiring a particular effect/attribute for their medical needs will need to know what they’re ingesting, and demand that what they purchase shows accurate dosage levels.

  6. MMC Owner on

    Breast Cancer Survivor,

    So quick to pass judgement! You may not believe me, but I agree with you 100% about the testing you mention.

    Please re-read the article and tell me where it discusses anything you mentioned after telling me I shouldn’t be running a Medical Marijuana Center.

    Now…go find me an MMC test lab that test for all of those things. Exactly. THERE AREN’T ANY.

    Don’t take my word for it!
    Let’s visit the companies together, shall we? Let’s start with CannLabs who wrote the article.

    Cann Labs –
    CannLabs. primary service is testing cannabis products for cannabinoid content (potency), which allows for proper dosing. We test for THC-A, THC, CBD, CBD-A, and CBN. Cannabis is an amazing plant and helps with a variety of aliments; however, without dosing it will be impossible to find out why and how much is needed for patients.

    CannLabs will soon be testing for microbials Including E. Coli and Salmonella and also pesticides.

    Now, let’s go to Boulder!
    RM3 –
    We are developing tests for the most common biological and chemical contaminants of marijuana. We will be offering these tests to our clients in the near future.

    And back to Denver for the “mobile” test lab, Herbal Synergy –
    What We Test For: CBD, CBN, CBG, CBC, THC-9, and THCV in flowers, concentrates, tincture, edibles, and beverages. We are now testing for leftover butane in extractions, and aromatics (terpenoids/flavinoids) in flowers. Herbal Synergy named official High Times Medical Cannabis Cup testing lab.

    So Breast Cancer Survivor, you obviously don’t know me, the industry, and any test labs yourself or you wouldn’t make the ignorant comments you made. I work my ass off to ensure patient safety every which way. We know what’s in OUR medicine. Do you know what’s in YOURS?

  7. saul meshach on

    I agree with the first owner. It is a waste of money to test medicine when there is no available scientifical baseline or standards. I sent one strain to 5 different test labs and got 5 different results. Even if the person has a 100k in test equimpent if the person who is doing the testing is not qualified and lab trained those test are worthless. I have a PHD in plant physiolgy and genetics who says that there is not current scientifally way to test canabbis I belive her. She worked at the University of Berkly and Cali.We are currently researching and testing our own methods of testing instead of relying on these charlatans setting up testing shops ripping off owners.Not all testing facilities are a fraud but Id say 90 percent of them are. The Red Emperor Collective

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