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California to Establish a Standard Cannabinoid Test by Jan 2023

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Oct 13, 2021    Last Updated: Oct 18, 2021
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California cannabis regulators now have just over a year to establish a new standard test method for cannabinoids in cannabis samples, following the signing of a state bill.

Signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom on October 5 – along with many other bills – the new bill, SB-544, requires the state Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) to appoint at least one cannabinoid test as the standard for state-certified labs by January 1, 2023.

A new test

The newly approved bill also grants the DCC more control over what cannabis samples need to be tested for. 

“The real significance of SB 544 is that is taking the contaminants list out of legislation and giving the DCC the authority to set regulation,” Art Hentschel, general manager at pH-PSI Labs, told Analytical Cannabis.

“This is going to give the DCC the ability to modify the contaminants list and action levels without the need for legislative approval.”

The bill's requirement of a new uniform cannabinoid test could also help prevent California's issue of lab shopping, the dubious practice of shopping a poor cannabis product (one with low levels of THC, for example) around multiple labs until one lab tests the product to the manufacturer’s wishes (by, say, inflating its THC quantities).

Speaking to LA Weekly about the newly approved bill, Josh Wurzer, founder of SC Labs, remarked that, while the bill’s intentions may be noble, its impact could be negligible.

“We like the intent of the bill, to standardize THC values across the industry. However, we believe that the minority of labs that are inflating THC values will still be able to get away with doing so even with a standardized method while the rest of the labs will have their hands tied with regard to innovation and method improvement.”

“We’d like to see the reference lab focused on surveillance activities to identify any labs that are putting out bad data rather than forcing the entire industry into a single method.”

Moreover, the issues of lab shopping and testing standardization in California extend beyond cannabinoid readings, and any rigorous change may require many more new standards.

Speaking to Analytical Cannabis last year, Josh Swider, founder and CEO of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, recalled hearing of several unorthodox methods for sample homogenization that could lead to differences between lab results.

“I’ve heard some very far-out-there methods for how they’re homogenizing their product,” Swider recalls. “I’ve heard of people beating a bag of marijuana with a rubber mallet, and that’s a certified testing lab.”

“I’ve heard of people homogenizing vape pens, but they heat up the vape pens to get the distillate out. Well, if you’re doing that it has residual solvents in it, potentially harmful ones, you’re removing them. So there’s a lot of aspects that people really need to think about it.”

More cannabis bills

Among the many bills Governor Newsom signed on October 5, there were two other cannabis-related pieces of legislation.

One, AB 1138, addresses civil enforcement around criminal cannabis activities. Under the law, any person engaging in cannabis commerce without a license will be subject to civil penalties of up to three times the amount of the license fee for each violation. Anyone caught aiding or abetting the operation will also face the same fine.

The other bill, AB 1222, concerns the packaging of cannabis beverages. Under the law, all cannabis drinks must now be packaged in transparent glass containers. Prior laws already required cannabis beverage packaging to be resealable, tamper-evident, and child-resistant.

Glass bottles are one of the more ideal vessels for cannabinoid-infused drinks, according to industry experts. Writing in Analytical Cannabis last year, Harold Han, founder of the Oakland-based infusion technology company Vertosa, noted that, “Currently, glass bottles are the most common vessel used for infused beverages. A major contributing factor is that glass is made from SiO2, which is hydrophilic.”

“Since the emulsion droplets contain cannabinoids, which are hydrophobic, they will naturally repulse from the hydrophilic glass, maintaining the even dispersion of droplets throughout the beverage. Glass bottles, therefore, generally yield strong results for potency shelf life.

Update: This article was updated on October 18, 2021, to include a further reaction to the bill's passing from Art Hentschel, general manager at pH-PSI Labs.


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