California’s new cannabis product testing regulations are overwhelming the state’s licensed laboratories with more work than they can possibly handle, given the size of the industry. And that’s creating a problem for the state’s retail dispensaries, where testing lab backlogs are keeping top brands off the shelves.
Testing Lab Backlogs Could Divert Desired Products To Illicit Sellers
On July 1, California’s new cannabis business requirements went into effect, bringing with them a host of significant changes to the industry’s regulatory landscape. The new rules put in place stricter packaging and labeling requirements and mandated a 10 x 10mg THC limit for edibles for retail customers.
But one of the strictest new rules dealt with lab testing requirements. Starting July 1, dispensaries had to literally destroy any cannabis products that didn’t meet them. Some distributors, those owned by a cultivator or manufacturer, were able to take products off shelves and send them back for testing. But many retailers were stuck with unsalable inventory, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars of cannabis products.
The lab testing requirements, however, aimed to bring some consistency to products with inconsistent tendencies, like edibles. Before the regulations took effect, producers could mix whatever cannabis products into any edible, label it and sell it. And that seeming randomness wasn’t a good look for an industry trying to overcome stigma.
Tighter control over product testing, THC limits and packaging helps the cannabis industry in California becomes safer, more controlled and more legitimate. And that’s why many in the industry are viewing the shortages as temporary growing pains as companies adjust to the new rules.
Some, however, are concerned that limited availability, however short-term, will frustrate customers. And frustrated customers could end up turning to illicit sources for cannabis products they can’t purchase legally, some worry.
California’s Cannabis Industry Needs More Testing Labs
California’s dispensaries aren’t completely out of product, of course. But certain popular strains of flower and some edibles brands have been harder to come by. The situation has improved somewhat in the month since the new regulations took effect. But at first, options were very limited.
So California needs more testing labs. Testing labs for cannabis products are much the same as labs that test agricultural produce and labs that screen pharmaceuticals. They’re high-tech facilities that rely mostly on robots and the expertise of scientists who specialize in chemistry and microbiology.
Labs screen products for pesticides, other contaminants and crucially, potency. And since all cannabis products in California now require labels that clearly indicate potency and the presence of contaminants, testing lab backlogs are starting to pile up.
California has just 31 labs licensed to test cannabis. Yet there are more than 400 registered dispensaries in the state. For now, labs are doubling their staff to try to keep up with the surge in business.
But that’s raising a concern for some dispensary owners. They worry that labs are lowering hiring standards to provide staff, instead of hiring really good scientists. As a result, different labs are producing different results for the same product. And the fact that there are no uniform standards for testing procedures is making matters worse.
Without those standards, California’s ramped up regulations may just be creating supply-chain chaos without actually providing the guarantee of product quality they claim to offer.