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Not One Arizona Cannabis Lab is Fully Certified, Despite New Law

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Nov 03, 2020   
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Despite voting to legalize medical cannabis a decade ago, Arizona state has generally lagged behind other legal cannabis jurisdictions in requiring stringent quality controls and contamination testing for cannabis products.

On November 1, 2020, a new state law came into effect that would finally require cannabis sold in the state to pass an extensive battery of testing applied by a state-certified testing lab. But, so far, no state testing laboratory has been fully certified by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to provide every test.

No lab certified for all seven required tests

According to the latest available ADHS list of certified testing laboratories, each of the two state testing labs closest to full certification can currently offer only five out of the seven tests required under state law.

These seven tests include potency analysis of each product, as well checks for contaminants, such as heavy metals, residual solvents, pesticides, herbicides, mycotoxins, and microbials.

In addition to these two labs, the state has one lab that has been certified to conduct four types of tests. Three other labs have been approved for only one or two tests each. Altogether, this means that dispensaries will have to send their products to two or more labs just to meet the minimum state testing requirements.

Behind the scenes, these labs are still working hard to get certified for the tests that they are missing. But perhaps it is no surprise that labs have struggled to achieve full certification yet, given the scale of the task they have been set by the new law.

Previously, testing medical cannabis was not mandatory in Arizona. Any testing done was completely optional and at the discretion of each dispensary, with no government-certified testing program to speak of. Now, under the provisions of a law that passed just last June, labs have had to prepare to run tests modeled after some of the strictest cannabis testing criteria in the United States.

“You don't go from no testing to testing the Oregon [pesticide] list with no hitch,” George Griffith, co-founder of the Arizona Cannabis Laboratory Association, told the Pheonix New Times last month. At the time, Griffith was confident that his own laboratory, Level One Labs, would still be able to become fully certified by the November 1 deadline. But, so far, the lab has only received approval for potency testing.

Griffith explained that the delays seen in the certification process right now are due to a number of issues “all crashing together at once,” including a backlog of labs waiting for review from certain experts, difficulties in calibrating the testing equipment for all of the different pesticides for the first time, and a shortage of substances that are needed to carry out such calibrations.

Labs are under pressure, but no major disruption expected for patients

Although no lab in the state is fully certified to carry out the complete battery of tests, the switch to mandatory testing still has many of the state’s testing facilities reporting that their workload has been kicked into overdrive as samples continue to flow in.

Desert Valley Testing, one of the two labs with the most certified testing programs, said that it started preparing for certification as soon as the state law passed a year-and-a-half ago, and it is still being overwhelmed with the number of sample requests. Turnaround times have inflated from three days to fifteen, as laboratory staff struggle to deal with the influx.

“Honestly, we just don’t have enough manpower and hours of the day,” Kaitlynn Henderson, Desert Vally Testing’s media coordinator, told the Pheonix New Times this week.

At Griffith’s lab, he says that his team has received eight times as many samples for testing in October as they did the month before. He puts this down to retailers rushing to make sure they have enough tested products for sales to as normal this month.

“It’s all people who knew it was coming but just didn't do anything,” he added.

Also speaking to the Pheonix New Times this week, Sam Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association disputes this. He asserts that retailers were instead waiting responsibly until each testing process was certified by the state. That way, they could ensure that the tests they were spending money to get done were suitably up to scratch.

“I know of members who have sent samples to multiple labs and received different results from each lab it was sent to,” Richard said.

Still, no matter the reasons behind the testing bottleneck, it appears unlikely that sales of medical cannabis to patients will be affected. In a statement from the ADHS, a spokesperson explained that the agency will begin implementing the new testing laws as of November 1, but stressed that the ADHS intends to do this “while continuing to work with dispensaries and laboratories to ensure that medical marijuana is available and safe for patients.”


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