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California Cannabis Tests Reach Record High, But Experts Caution Any Hype

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Dec 06, 2019   
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The number of legal cannabis samples tested in California jumped to a record peak last month. Over 6,100 marijuana product batches were screened for pesticides, microbes, and other contaminants in November, according to the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) – an increase of 49 percent from figures in June.

But while this may look like a promising sign of growth for the Golden State’s underperforming cannabis market, industry experts have cautioned the hype.

The highs and lows of testing

Following the first wave of California’s cannabis testing regulations, the BCC has released regular reports on the tests’ results since October 2018. At the time, 16,049 batches had been tested and the majority of failures (1,751) were the result of inaccurate label claims.

After an initial boost, batch numbers took a slump the following summer, lulling at 4,111 processed samples in June 2019.

Later on, though, as of November 27 this year, the monthly figure sat at 6,139, the most batches the BCC has ever recorded in a month.

“Although most industry folks have a less than rosy outlook, we have noticed an uptick in testing as well,” said Dr Swetha Kaul, the chief scientific officer at Cannalysis, a state-licensed cannabis testing facility in Santa Ana.

But while testing is definitely on the up, Kaul doesn’t quite have a rosy outlook for the state’s cannabis sector either. There are several factors, she says, that could contribute to the surge in samples, irrespective of market growth. 

Reasons to be doubtful

“I would temper any optimism with a few salient details,” Kaul told Analytical Cannabis. “One, this could be a seasonal uptick and it would be great to see whether it is sustained.”

Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, California’s cannabis sector is aflush with outdoor cultivation. And given that most growers harvest their crop from September through November, the recent BCC figures may just reflect this seasonal reaping.

“Two, the BCC data is not reflective of the overall volume of products,” Kaul continued. “For instance, there could be more testing on the same volume of products simply due to smaller batches.”

The actual weights of cannabis samples submitted to the BCC can be quite varied. Some will only weigh a few pounds, while other can reach the legal maximum of 50 pounds, which is why it can be difficult to gauge the amount of cannabis material the BCC processes from its reports alone.

“Three,” Kaul added, “there is a tax increase that goes into effect in January and it would be interesting to see whether there is a stockpiling effect in preparation of that.”

Californian authorities have reasoned that the marijuana tax jump, due to kick in on January 1, will keep the cannabis industry in line with the state’s 15 percent excise tax. But industry experts like Kaul warn that higher costs will only drive more customers to California’s still thriving illicit market.

“The legal industry is still suffering at the hands of a booming illegal market,” she said. “And until we see volumes of legal tested products that represent the majority of the overall market, it is difficult to get excited about small upticks.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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