Testing facility standardization

Right now, the industry is struggling with licensed testing labs and the significant lack of cannabis testing facility standardization. It’s a complicated issue that is shrouded in uncertainty. CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) is working hard to create a certification process, but with all the government red tape, budgeting, and understaffing it is slow process. The last meeting minutes regarding standardized testing procedures from CDPHE website, was posted in June 2016.

That being said, no one is sure when cannabis labs will start to be standardized. Yes, CDPHE inspects the labs, and in some counties, they are inspected by local health authorities as well. The issue is, there is no set type of equipment that is required to be a Cannabis testing lab, nor is there a required reporting limit for certain tests.

For example, I can go to one lab who use a Mass Spectrometry Instrument (MS) for potency testing that costs ~20,000 dollars. Another lab could be using a High performance Liquid Chromatography instrument for the same test that costs 800.00 dollars; and there can be huge variations in the results between the two machines. While some facilities have major problems with testing concentrates, other facilities may have no problem with them at all.  What’s more, is there is no set testing limit. Testing facilities that have different types of machines, also measure to different reporting limits.

When I was an investigator for Denver Environmental Health, there were several instances where we ran into issues with testing limits. If there were two samples from the exact same concentrate, sent to two different labs ,they sometimes received different results: one would come back as non-detect, and the other would measure a strong detect.

Later, we discovered that one lab was only able to measure to a .2ppm detection limit and the other was measuring at a .005ppm detection limit. This is a huge difference and also effects which labs are chosen by companies for testing. If a facility consistently gets passing results for microbes from one lab, and failing results from another, which lab are they always going to send samples to? Obviously, the lab that is giving them passing results.

Unfortunately, the labs that have more precise equipment are losing their business to the labs that give passing results every time due to their higher detection limits. The most consistent results I have seen are from labs that have the same equipment and detection level (5 ppb) as the CDA (Colorado Department of Agriculture).

Eventually, these standards will be determined and will become mandatory. But for now, the industry’s frustration is high, and I for one can’t wait for the change to come. This is an issue that effects every facility that grows or makes product, and therefore adds another layer of uncertainty within the industry.

The MED has now presented some changes in the regulations that have specific levels of pesticides allowed in flower and trim product. They will likely take effect in a few a months. This change certainly doesn’t take care of this issue, but it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, other jurisdictions will realize the implications and will start making changes on their own.

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