State cannabis regulators need to turn to the experts
Cannabis laws shouldn’t be written in guesswork—labs like Modern Canna have the knowledge regulators need.
Cannabis can seem like uncharted territory for lawmakers, so it’s no surprise when well-intentioned cannabis laws come out a little bit backwards: Under-regulated in some ways, over-regulated in others, and oftentimes counterproductive to public health and safety. There’s no great mystery here— lawmakers should begin the rule development process by consulting with industry professionals who have extensive experience working with cannabis products.
“It’s important to consult with analytical laboratory experts who have chemistry backgrounds and truly understand the science behind testing cannabis products. Failing to do so can set programs back several months, or even years,” says Wyatt Bergel, Technical Director at cannabis testing laboratory, Modern Canna.
“We know our regulatory framework hasn’t provided comprehensive rules that ensure complete consumer safety and standardization for testing; nevertheless, we draw from widely accepted knowledge and experience to hold ourselves to that higher standard. Regulations develop slowly, so it is up to all participants to hold themselves accountable,” Bergel went on to say.
When regulation goes wrong & the important role third-party labs play
Washington State was one of the first to legalize cannabis; however, oversight of the state’s new cannabis market went to the liquor control board. Regulators quickly realized they were in over their heads as cannabis and alcohol, it turns out, have very few similarities.
“We don’t have the expertise,” admitted Rick Garza, executive director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, about five years into legalization.
The most glaring omission: While the state set limits for certain contaminants in cannabis crops, no testing was required to back it up.
Even with proper testing procedures, a lack of accountability can compromise an entire system. In 2018, just after California imposed strict testing protocols, the director of a Sacramento testing lab began falsifying reports. With no internal peer review process for pesticide testing, submitting false results was easy. The issue went undetected for months, resulting in many untested batches being released on the market. Thousands of products were seized by the state, affecting more than 30 cannabis distributors who relied on the lab’s reports.
This isn’t an isolated incident. In Washington, one lab gained a reputation for allegedly inflating THC percentages and downplaying contaminants. Policymakers need to be able to lean on third-party laboratories during rule development, but establishing trust and maintaining a good reputation falls entirely on the lab.
“Laboratory fraud is a dark road. Every time we hold data integrity training it’s like nails on a chalkboard recounting similar stories (and sometimes far worse). The laboratory is sacred: Existing as an outside party to give you the truth, no matter how hard that truth might be. For instance, how many times have you questioned your test results from your doctor’s office? Or thought, is that thing really calibrated correctly?” said Modern Canna QA Manager, Eric Kemp.
“Our data is our only product. If you compromise your only product, how long can you expect to last? Stories of lab fraud give the industry a black eye. The only course of action is to never compromise integrity. If you ever find yourself in the position of submitting samples for analysis, you should choose a laboratory that will give you that truth and bring as much precision to the result(s) as can be reasonably attained.” Kemp continued.
Regulation that works for cannabis
Cannabis has a unique set of needs and a diverse supply chain. It takes years to gain the expertise needed to effectively cultivate and manufacture cannabis and cannabis derivative products. It takes analytical chemists from third-party laboratories equally as long, or longer, to accurately and efficiently analyze these products.
Understanding the chemistry behind the cannabis plant is critical when drafting quality control policies—this is why it’s important for regulators to work with experts who have already dedicated significant time developing scientific and technological advancements in cannabis testing. Analytical chemists at organizations like Modern Canna aim to analyze medical cannabis with impartiality. Using verifiable testing methods, they know firsthand that reliable testing is something the industry was in desperate need of.
“Standardization is one of the pillars of any laboratory. We have built all of our validated cannabis methods from widely accepted methodologies used in the environmental testing industry. We appreciate every opportunity we get to work with the state to help ensure the future of the program. Further, we get the opportunity to extend this passion and expertise to our clients to track down any potential regulatory issues,” said Modern Canna Lab Director, Jini Curry.
This type of fair oversight is critical to the safe cultivation, production, and distribution of cannabis products. The chance of preventing a contaminant crisis significantly increases when technical experts are involved in rule development.
In 2019, the vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI) crisis exposed regulatory cracks in legal cannabis markets. People were dying from using unregulated vape products—and having trouble telling the difference between legitimate and counterfeit products. While the Center for Disease Control hasn’t committed to a single cause, the likely culprit was Vitamin E Acetate, a diluent, or cutting agent, in black market vape cartridges.
VAPI wasn’t associated with cartridges from licensed producers or retailers, hitting states without legal cannabis the hardest. While no licensed cartridge manufacturer of sound mind would use questionable cutting agents in their products, it’s still technically permissible in several legal cannabis markets.
Developed, maintained, and enforced by experts
With no federal regulation currently in play, states need to monitor the quality of their cannabis carefully. The best way to avoid future problems is by consulting with experts who know the market inside and out and know how to set checks and balances centered around quality data.
“It is our firm belief and civic duty to ensure consumer safety. We do this by rigorously and continuously validating our processes and staying on the course we have set for ourselves. Most state departments in charge of regulating medical and recreational programs are understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed. They need all the help they can get,” said Modern Canna CEO, George Fernandez.
Quality data is the core foundation for policymaking. It is wise for these departments to seek assistance during rule development from credible third-party cannabis testing laboratories, like Modern Canna, in order to prevent future contaminant crises from occurring and to ensure the safety of cannabis consumers.