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1 in 5 Cannabis Samples Are Failing California’s New Regulations

By Leo Bear-McGuinness
Published: Sep 12, 2018   
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Since California’s new safety requirements came into effect on July 1, one in five batches of cannabis have failed to pass the new regulations, according to data from the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC).

It is reported that these failures are due to both the mislabeling of products and contamination from pesticides, bacteria, and processing chemicals. This clampdown has even led to the first cannabis product to be recalled from store shelves because it failed to meet the new standards regarding safe pesticide levels.

What are the new regulations?

The BCC is a state regulator that licenses the cultivation, manufacturing, sale, transportation, storage, delivery, and testing of cannabis in California. Its new regulations, brought into effect on July 1, were for four main categories: lab testing, packaging and labeling, the limits of THC, and ingredients and appearance. Any cannabis goods that do not meet all these statutory criteria must be “destroyed in accordance with the rules pertaining to destruction”.

Notable stipulations were that:

• All labs must test for residual solvents, residual pesticides, and foreign materials
• All packaging and labeling must be performed prior to cannabis goods being transported to a retailer
• All cannabis goods must be in child-resistant packaging prior to delivery to a retailer
• Edible cannabis goods may not exceed 10 milligrams of THC per serving and may not exceed 100 milligrams of THC per package

What are the products failing on?

Since July 1, Californian labs have tested 5,268 batches of cannabis and about 20 percent of these batches have failed to meet state standards.

The clear majority (68 percent) of the failed cannabis samples did not pass the acceptance criteria due to inaccurate claims on the labels, mainly concerning the stated amount of THC or CBD. While these discrepancies might not necessarily have led to consumer harm, it can lead them to overpay for products that aren’t as valuable as advertised.

However, around 19 percent of the failed lab samples did pose a health risk due to the presence of pesticides. These cases varied between the overabundance of legal pesticides to the presence of pesticides that are entirely forbidden under state law.

Further to pesticides, around 6 percent of lab test failures since July 1 have been due to microbial impurities, such as mold and bacteria, contaminants that can pose a deadly risk to users with a weak immune system. Lastly, the remaining 5 percent or so failed because they tested positive for residual solvents, such as ethanol, butane, and isopropanol. These chemicals are often used to extract THC but have been shown to produce carcinogens when vaporized.

What impact has this had?

One casualty of the new regulations has been the Los Angeles-based company The Bloom Brand, which announced on July 25 that it was “voluntarily recalling a batch of cannabis products from certain California retailers” as they failed to meet the new safe pesticide standards for Myclobutanil. When heated, this fungicide decomposes to produce corrosive and toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide – a side effect not desired in inhalable items.

The prohibited products were sold to around 100 stores throughout the state between July 1-19. The company has apologized for “any concern or inconvenience this serious misstep has caused” and stated that they are “working closely with the BCC to remedy this issue and expect clean, compliant products to be back on shelves in three weeks,”.

Additionally, only 31 labs are licensed by the BCC to test cannabis, most of which are located in Northern California. This small base of operations means that if just a few labs struggle with new regulations, the whole state does. Indeed, the recent upheaval has left some retailers with severely depleted inventories.

What’s next?

When new regulations come into effect there’s bound to be an adjustment period. Some labs and dispensaries can be too slow to reform and, along with their customers, end up bearing the brunt of their neglect.

Fortunately, most products are meeting these new standards and consumers are now receiving products that undergo stricter safety checks. Indeed, these new regulations can even be viewed as a positive sign that the Californian cannabis industry is continuing to mature and catch up to the regulatory world of other markets, such as alcohol and food.

To get to that level of regulation, more stipulations will need to be put in place – something the BCC is actively working towards.

This recent upheaval is only the second phase of the bureau’s new regulations. On January 1, 2018, lab tests such as moisture content and microbial impurities testing became a state requirement, marking the first phase of a new wave of regulation. Moving beyond the recent requirements, come December 31, testing for terpenoids, heavy metals and other contaminants will also become a requisite for any Californian lab.


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