How Will California Handle Cannabis Testing?

Published on December 21, 2015 · Last updated August 17, 2022

After a spate of pesticide warnings and recalls, it’s no surprise consumers want to be clear what’s in their cannabis. So as election season approaches, many are watching California to see how the nation’s biggest state handles product testing as it weighs recreational legalization.

There are plenty of proposals on the table — at least 18 would-be initiatives have been submitted — but advocates in recent weeks have appeared to unite behind a single one, the California Adult Use of Marijuana Act. When it comes to testing, the initiative would keep quality control in private hands, but it would attempt to build a firewall between laboratories and businesses.

Support Gaining for California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act

The measure allows people to apply for at least 11 different types of licenses, including five types of cultivation licenses and six commercial licenses. Operators could hold multiple permits — a grower could also be a distributor and a retailer, for example — but not if they want to test cannabis. Under the would-be law, testers can only be testers.

That protection is meant to ensure the integrity of laboratories by insulating them from anyone who might have a financial stake in results. Consumer advocates say regulation of safety and quality is a key part of welcoming cannabis into the mainstream.

Inspection also can protect businesses themselves. Addressing industry insiders at Marijuana Business Daily’s 4th Annual Conference and Expo in Las Vegas last month, consumer activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader said testing is essential to help protect businesses from legal action.

“We’ve got to have standards of inspection, for, say, pesticides, for fungus, for rot,” Nader said. “We have to have standards of advertising and truth, so we don’t get hit with lawsuits.”

He also urged separation between business and inspection — along the lines of what the California initiative envisions — describing it as fundamental to prevent fraud and corruption.

“Watch out for control of these labs by your industry,” he warned. “That’s when the problems start.”

For nearly two decades after California adopted its first medical marijuana law in 1996, it wasn’t clear whether entities that tested cannabis were even legal. Some laboratories operated quietly in regions more permissive of cannabis, but others were denied business licenses by local officials.

While some producers might balk at handing over control of their product to outside testers, Nader argued the industry could cause itself greater harm if it tries to limit the truth. Pointing to the tobacco industry as an example of a bad actor, he encouraged businesses to be honest and cooperative if, for instance, cannabis use is ultimately tied to adverse health effects.

“Say what you want about marijuana, but it’s going to be studied a lot more than some of you may like,” he said. “Once it’s legalized, the universities are going to be freer to do medical research or impact research. So you really have to have an open attitude.”

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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