Nearly 20 Percent of California’s Cannabis Products Failing Lab Tests

Some products failed because of harmful contaminants, but most were just in the wrong packaging.
Nearly 20 Percent of California's Cannabis Products Failing Lab Tests
National Cancer Institute/ Wikimedia Commons

In the two months following the July 1 implementation of California’s new and stricter cannabis industry regulations, the state’s 31 licensed labs managed to test 10,695 product samples. Of those, 1,904 failed Bureau of Cannabis Control requirements, according to the Associated Press. In other words, 18 percent of all cannabis products tested in California did not meet the new standards. But largely the reasons for failure weren’t due to dangerous or harmful products or contaminant levels. Rather, incongruities between package labeling and the product itself were the leading cause of failed lab tests.

Are Strict New Packaging and Labeling Requirements To Blame for Testing Failures?

In California’s first two months of cannabis product testing, the number one reason for failure wasn’t pesticides (403) or mold contamination (114). It wasn’t residual solvents or chemicals (99) or foreign materials (6). Rather, a full two-thirds of all the failures (1,279) were due to inaccurate packaging; claims that didn’t match up against the actual products therein.

And in terms of the types of products, edibles, tinctures and lotions had the highest rate of failure: 33 percent. Cannabis buds had the lowest failure rate at 10.6 percent, while oils and waxes (i.e. concentrates) for vaping and dabbing split the difference at 20.4 percent, according to the AP.

So while a third of the products tested didn’t pass because they didn’t meet health and safety standards, the rest failed, not because of anything dangerous about the product itself, but because of the information on its packaging.

As a result of the high rate of failure, California’s cannabis industry is seeking to roll back some of the stricter requirements of the new packaging and labeling rules.

High Product Failure Rates Prompt Industry To Seek Rule Changes

When a lab certified by the Bureau of Cannabis Control fails a product for “inaccurate claims on package label,” they almost always mean that the product’s cannabinoid content differs from the CBD and THC quantities listed on the package. But inaccurate labeling can also mean claims about origin, untrue or unproven language about health benefits and effects or other cultivation data.

Unless the product is flower, however, producers and retailers cannot legally relabel the product with correct information. Instead, they have to destroy the product. And that’s one of the major changes the industry is demanding. They want to be able to relabel products with correct information and get them back on store shelves.

Another change the industry is seeking has to do with manufacturing edibles. Given the nature of culinary production, achieving “homogeneity,” a regulatory term for consistent THC distribution in a batch of cannabis-infused edibles, is difficult. Often, THC content in products from the same batch can be more than 10 percent above or below the indicated level. So producers want to up the permissible variance to plus/minus 20 percent, rather than the current mark of plus/minus 10 percent.

As the industry continues to adjust to meet the strict new requirements, more products will end up in the dumpster rather than the dispensary. Whether that’s ultimately necessary or not is a major point of contention between the regulators and an industry skeptical about the efficacy of the revised standards.

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