Testing the Testers

Advice on finding a reputable cannabis lab

by John Schroyer

Questionable results. A lack of scientific expertise. Pricing that sounds too good to be true.

Welcome to the wild world of marijuana testing, where a lack of federal oversight and an absence of industry standards has created a chaotic, confusing situation for cannabis companies in search of a qualified lab.

Most states that have legalized some form of marijuana sales now also mandate testing, and several others are moving in that direction. Yet states typically don’t set rules for procedures, testing methods, equipment and other critical areas. Results can therefore differ greatly depending on the lab conducting the test, and some not-too-reputable businesses have emerged – especially in markets without any type of statewide regulations.

So how can you find a trustworthy lab? Read on…

Zero in on Three Key Areas

“It all comes down to science, service and price, probably in that order,” said Sean Luse, the chief operating officer at the dispensary Berkeley Patients Group in California.

Luse said testing labs are a business, just like any other sector of the cannabis trade, so it’s important to conduct a fair share of due diligence. One of the biggest areas that businesses evaluating labs overlook is the science part of the equation.

“Do they have any real science professionals on their team?” Luse said. “It’s one thing to have some guys who think they’ve figured out how to run (testing equipment), but do they have the Ph.D.? Do they have a chemist? Those are key components.”

So be sure to check out the bios of their executives and the people actually testing the cannabis first.

On pricing, Luse said it’s “all over the map,” so there’s really no good rule of thumb. It really depends on the region of the country and the services offered. The best strategy is to compare and contrast different labs, and keep in mind that the best price isn’t always the best value.

When it comes to service, the most important telltale signs are timeliness of results and good communication, Luse said.

“You need to be able to predict when you will get your results and you always need them yesterday. So consistently quick is the goal,” he said. And if there are any issues, lab staffers need to be able to explain those to you, which is where communication comes in.

Beware of Results for Sale

Speaking of pricing: As with any sector of the marijuana trade, there are plenty of snake oil salesmen in the testing business. Some don’t really know what they’re doing, while others are willing to serve up whatever results a business is looking for, as long as the price is right.

The latter scenario should be a major red flag. Avoid labs that insinuate or even guarantee that they can provide desired results for a price.

“If you ever get a guy who offers to make sure all your tests pass for a nominal yearly subscription fee, stay far, far away from those people,” said Scott Reach, a longtime Colorado cannabis grower and breeder with Rare Dankness.

Listen to Word On the Street

Given the lack of industry testing standards, it’s critical to assess a lab’s reputation with other professionals in the industry. The marijuana trade is still relatively small, and word of both good and bad actors circulates fairly quickly.

“Until there’s more state oversight or more federal oversight, one lab’s just as good as another lab, and one lab’s just as bad as another lab,” Reach said. “Right now, all you can depend on is industry reputation and personal experience.”

Even the most reputable labs in a given market may come back with varying results, so there’s often no concrete way to evaluate accuracy and performance. Given that reality, Reach said the best evaluation tool is to ask around and see what other cannabis businesses have to say about different labs.

“It comes down to just your relationship with the labs and how much you believe in the work they’re doing,” Reach said.

Spot Check

Brian Caldwell, owner of the Triple C Cannabis Club recreational store in Washington State, suggested getting results from several labs. He recommends sending random samples from a single batch to multiple labs, just to see what type of results the labs come up with. That kind of experiment can tell you a good bit about who to trust and which lab to choose.

Caldwell’s advice: eliminate labs that come back with results on one extreme or the other.

“See who comes back with what. See where the middle is. Find out who’s closest to it,” Caldwell said.

Reach does the same thing in Colorado. Even though sending out multiple samples can be costly, the knowledge is worth it, Reach said.

“Even from the best labs, like an actual DEA-certified lab, and even on their best days, there’s still plus or minus 3% – 5%, and that’s crazy when you’re trying to come up with THC percentages,” Reach said.

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