Curaleaf Pulls Thousands of Products Off Shelves After THC Labeling Switch
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The multi-state operator Curaleaf has pulled tens of thousands of its products off of New York State shelves after the company switched to an unauthorized way of labeling product potency.
While measuring THC content on a “dry weight” basis is the norm in many other US states, products in New York are usually labeled on their natural “wet weight”. Dry weight potencies can be significantly higher than wet weight measurements for the same product, and may mislead consumers who are specifically seeking out high-potency products.
According to NY Cannabis Insider, Curaleaf’s switch to dry weight reporting was also done without prior approval from the New York Office of Cannabis Management (OCM). Curaleaf has confirmed that it will be reverting back to the previous labeling method until approval is finalized.
Labeling switch misled patients on THC contentIn July, a watchdog group that focuses on New York’s medical marijuana program discovered some inconsistencies between the THC% claimed on Curaleaf packaging and the total THC values reported on the products’ certificates of analysis (COAs).
Screenshots shared to the group’s Twitter account show a Curaleaf whole flower product that has a total THC value 36.86% listed on its label. However, calculations based on the product’s official COA indicated a total THC of 23.49%.
Speaking to NY Cannabis Insider, the watchdog group’s founder and the man who discovered the labeling discrepancy, Tom (last name withheld for privacy reasons), said, “I noticed that the THC% on the label did not match the THC%” on the certificate.”
“Some dispensaries were even selling the jars with a price markup because they believed the batches to be extremely potent or ‘extra strength,’’’ he said. “To be fair, most employees I’ve spoken to hadn’t been given a clear explanation from Curaleaf – one dispensary even refused to sell the batches because they caught the discrepancy between the label and the COA.”
In an email later sent to Curaleaf, the OCM affirmed that dry weight measurements “are for informational purposes only and cannot be applied to approved product labeling until such time an approved method is available.”
Posted as a reply to the watchdog group’s original Tweet the following day, a Curaleaf statement explained that the difference between the values had been down to Curaleaf using “approved scientific methods to calculate our dry weight THC levels based on our laboratory results,” which the company had included on labels “in order to provide a more accurate metric of THC content.”
The statement also offered an apology for the community for any confusion caused by the change in labeling methodology, and confirmed that it would be reverting back to the New York standard wet weight measurements.
Why test on a dry weight basis?Moisture rates can vary significantly over the lifetime of a cannabis product. Because of this, reporting measurements made on a dry weight basis is already the norm in many other states with legal cannabis provisions, including several of New York’s neighboring states in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland.
“You can either report on an as-is basis, knowing that there'll be some residual moisture and water content in that plant material when you weigh it. Or you report on a dry weight basis or a dried basis, which is also very typical in analytical chemistry methods usually used for botanical materials that are known to be hygroscopic,” explained Dr Holly Johnson in a past interview with Analytical Cannabis. Johnson is the chief science officer for the American Herbal Products Association and chairs the AOAC International’s Cannabis Analytical Science Program (CASP) working group.
“If [samples] sit on the bench for a little bit longer, they might absorb more water and cause the material to weigh more when you put it on the balance, which isn't really equivalent to a weight,” Johnson said.
Dry weight measurements are also favored in some jurisdictions as the 2018 Farm Bill, the piece of legislation that effectively legalized hemp in the United States, defines hemp versus cannabis in terms of dry weight THC measurements. Indeed, the USDA’s hemp testing framework advises that total THC should be calculated and reported on a dry weight basis.
Consumer trust in the cannabis industryWhile wet weight measurements were still visible on Curaleaf product COAs, it is not particularly common for the average consumer to request a COA. Additionally, since these documents record a testing laboratory’s full findings, some consumers may have difficulty properly interpreting the information they provide.
“Patients should be able to accurately assess their dose,” Timothy Mitchell, a medical marijuana patient and advocate, told NY Cannabis Insider. “Medical use is about symptom relief, and many of us have a clear idea of what’s required to get the needed result.”
“As a matter of transparency, it’s important to have accurate information because some of us are using medical cannabis after getting no results from the medical system/pharmaceuticals and/or feeling misled by promised but undelivered results.”
“To now have to question whether or not our dispensaries are knowingly misleading us would feel like yet another setback,” he said.
Given the widespread use of dry weight measurements in other jurisdictions, Curaleaf anticipates that New York may still switch to dry weight measurements in the future. The company is also currently working with the OCM to allow third-party labs to begin adding dry weight THC content information to COAs in order to mitigate labeling concerns. But for now, the company will be returning to the OCM-authorized wet weight labeling approach.
“Curaleaf is temporarily removing certain products across the market to relabel and redistribute with the New York mandated wet weight measurement,” Stephanie Cunha, a Curaleaf spokesperson, confirmed in a statement given to NY Cannabis Insider.
“Curaleaf holds our products to high standards, and we are deeply sorry to our patient community for any confusion this change in methodology has caused.”