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Meds Cannabis Testing

momofthegoons

Vapor Accessory Addict
Staff member
THC Testing is Bullshit and You’re Getting Screwed

Beard bros Cannabis article for Neptune seed bank
20
Jul
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The sheer audacity of the claims seem to be careening ever more dangerously toward preposterous absurdity these days. Everywhere, in every rec-legal state, as the race for hip new genetics and the hypest flower reaches a feverish pitch you hear it: 30% THC is the new 20%. As every new state rec system comes online we see practically the same bell curve every time, ramping up sharply after the first six months to a year in. I read an article the other day about some furious, madcap new genetic in Illinois. The lab test results? Get ready, kids…THIRTY SEVEN POINT FIVE PERCENT THC!!! Crazy, right?

Wanna know what I thought? I stared blankly at the screen, motionless, for a second or two. Something carbonated and pressurized snapped in my brain, before I could hold it in.

Holy shit I fucking laughed. I laughed so goddamned hard I passed out in the kitchen. I think my neighbors still think I’m on meth from that day.

Because truly: I know this saga inside and out. All too well actually. One time at a spot I worked a while back, we had a Grease Monkey come in at 38.1%.

I just smoked some the other day. It was no better or worse than the 26.3% we got on the same strain, same room, one crop before. But I’ll tell you something: the day those lab results dropped, I drove dispensary to dispensary around the city of Portland, fielding frantic phone calls and all-caps texts from intake managers. I had the windows down, intermittently blasting Britney Spears and Slayer, shoving huge wads of cash in my pocket everywhere I went.

Laughing. My. Ass. Off.

How does this happen, exactly? Tell you what: you seem cool. I’ll let you in on a big, nasty-ass secret that’s going to get me in a lot of trouble with a lot of industry people.
The vast majority of 30% THC test scores on flower in the rec marketplace are UTTER BULLSHIT. The system is rotten and corrupt across the board. Testing labs have a financial imperative to compete to deliver the most inflated numbers possible, growers’ survival often depends on giving their business to the most crooked lab they can find. All these 30 percent test scores you’re seeing? Check the label: 90% of those are coming from a VERY small minority of testing facilities. You’re being lied to by unscrupulous factions of a desperately overcrowded industry, taken advantage of by cutthroat lab owners exploiting lackluster and vague state-mandated procedural testing guidelines. Furthermore, when you as a consumer ask your budtender for “Whatever the highest THC flower is” you are outing yourself as somebody who doesn’t really understand what comprises truly badass, enjoyable craft Cannabis. The THC numbers game is bad for the growers, bad for the plant and ultimately bad for the consumer. Today we’re going to talk about why this, how we’ve come to this point and actions we can all take to turn it around.
On with the shitshow…

THE HUSTLE
Let’s say you’re a licensed grower. You’ve got a certain number of pounds you need to sell, for a certain amount of money, to make a profit and stay afloat. Let’s say you grow some truly kickass top-shelf (Go, You!) and you’ve built up your name. You stop in for your weekly chat with an intake manager at a dispensary you regularly sell to, only this time they’ve got no room for you on their shelf.
Cannabis Nug Close Up, for Neptune Seed Bank
Turns out somebody else’s flower, some brownish nondescript mids from two seasons ago with no discernible nose, has taken your spot. The only reason? Theirs tests 32%. You ask which lab tested it, you and the intake manager share a knowing glance and a long groan. Is it better flower? Hell no. Will the consumer get a harsh, shitty experience? Absolutely. How do you keep your doors open and afford to continue producing something on the level that you’d actually want to smoke? You give it some thought. Your gardeners, office workers, trimmers and sales team are counting on you to have payroll covered. You’ve got a mortgage and a car and a family.

Enter: The Crooked Lab
Let’s say you’re a new testing facility. You’ve invested millions into your equipment and buildout, you’ve hired top notch lab techs. You open your doors, start seeing a trickle of business from growers. That trickle starts to die off. There’s this one lab across town, however, that despite a turnaround time on lab results of two weeks compared to your two days has all the business several labs could ever hope to have. Word on the street is they’ve got a sample collector in the field who’s got a “fast and loose” approach to how samples are taken and what THC numbers growers are getting in exchange for their extended wait time. You start looking at your bills, your payroll, your mortgage…and you have a long, sad, awkward talk with your field sample collector about ethics and the survival of the business.

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The grower meets the sample collector. There’s a nervous handshake. They eye each other up and down. They step into the office.

Instead of selecting a half ounce of buds at random from a fifteen pound bin, there’s a small jar on the table. In this jar are hand-selected top buds, busted up as small as possible, rolled in a healthy layer of kief. You can’t actually see the flower itself: these are essentially moonrocks.

Two weeks of pins and needles later, the tests come back: Thirty something percent, by God! Who knew? The grower hangs their head in shame but the lights are still running, employees still employed. The lab has scored a new business partner who is really something more of an addict to their services. Both parties’ livelihood and survival are fully dependent on the lies they’ve transacted, and both parties know it. That lie gets passed on to the dispensary, and then to you.

This happens every day. Everybody in the industry knows it.

To all my peers and friends who’ve provided for themselves and their families propagating this nonsense: Yeah, I’m saying it. We all should be. This has been coming a long time now. Let’s show some fucking balls. Let’s own up to our bullshit and conduct ourselves as honest businesspeople. Let’s get mad about these lies. Let’s Win.

THE LEGEND
There’s something we need to confront, as a culture of recreational Cannabis consumers.

It’s a theory we’ve operated under for a long, long time: The higher the THC, the “better” / “stronger” / “danker” the weed. The story of Cannabis has been portrayed under this narrative for quite a while now: I legit spent more time studying THC numbers in High Times throughout high school in the 90s than I did studying math (But not to worry: selling drugs got all my math skills right back in shape in the evenings after band and late detention).

It was an amazing concept, on paper: gas chromatography testing could accurately analyze the chemical components of a bud and provide a uniform, tangible concept of how utterly awesome Phish was going to be next weekend. I believed that shit like some folks believe Joseph Smith dictated the word of God directly out of a top hat using his mighty Urim and Thummim. I was a level 8 Thetan of what hip new genetics were going down in Amsterdam at the time. I pissed my friends off to no end with that noise. Some (most) of them still just barely tolerate my ass.

THE TRUTH
It turns out that as far as accurate testing is concerned, THC levels can vary wildly within an individual plant, let alone several samples taken from a bin. Numbers will be higher or lower depending on what part of the plant the flower grew on, what angle to the sun or light fixture it had, how much of the tested flower had a huge stem etcetcetc. Individual flowers on a plant can have range differential of as much as 12% – 15% depending on who you ask. What this means for the consumer is if 14 grams are being taken out of 15 pounds, which buds are chosen can in effect produce wildly different outcomes in the final cannabinoid testing numbers. The only way to generate a truly accurate and equitable THC percentage would be to grind up test the entire 15 pound batch, which sadly would leave nothing left for people to smoke. Which would suck: I do love to smoke.

To complicate the matter further, the advent of new scientific research and data has begun to disrupt and rewrite our concept of how Cannabis works. We now know THC is by far not the only factor to be considered in how high you get or what kind of effects you experience. More accurately, it was the first person to sign the guestlist at an extremely vivid and well-attended party. The “personality” of a high, the soaring / uplifting or couchlock / introverted nuances that determine true enjoyability and depth: this in fact has virtually nothing to do with cannabinoid content whatsoever. How cannabinoids bond with terpenes on their way to the brain: THISis the Magic. This is where that one time you got really, unbelievably high, happens. I’ll guarantee you: somewhere on a dispensary shelf there is a jar of Zkittles that tested at 12% THC that will rip your soul from your chest.

The idea that Cannabis can be judged on THC content alone is the 1980s tail-dragging dinosaur lumbering behind our swifter and more complete modern understanding of terpene interaction, the endocannabinoid system’s polyamorous affinity for a diverse stable of compounds and the demonstrable fact that the right genetics, in the right grower’s hands, can produce truly individual and inimitable Art.

Recently I had the opportunity to chat in depth on this topic with Portland’s own Dr. Adie Rae. Dr. Adie is a Cannabis pharmacologist, neuroscientist and one of the principal architects of the Cultivation Classic, the northwest’s premier yearly competition and expo of all things Craft Cannabis. She had some deep insights as to what produced winning entries from this year, exceptional cultivars that survived the rigors of double-blind evaluation through a pool of 150 independent judges analyzing entrants through an exhaustive list of variables and a final review by Cascadia Labs, widely regarded as one of the most legitimate and upstanding testing facilities in our state’s history.

“The single most important finding we came across this year is that of the top ten most enjoyable flowers, 70% of them had less than 20% THC,” she says. “In fact, one of these top-scoring cultivars only had 6.8% THC.”

“I completely understand what it is like to shop for the greatest value. But these results suggests that the greatest value is in a flower’s enjoyment, not its potency.”

I asked her if there were any further factors that stood out in determining overall enjoyment of a particular entry by the pool of judges.

“It looks like a strong predictive factor of a winning flower is a pleasant aroma. We found correlations between a nice aroma, a nice overall psychological effect, and euphoria. The nose truly knows! Obviously the aroma is driven by the terpenes, but it’s not just about which flower had the MOST terpenes. Rather, there is a very subjective, yet somehow agreed-upon idea of what smells good. This is really similar to perfume; there are thousands of perfumes out there that have sandalwood as the top ingredient by volume, but some of those perfumes smell divine, and others just smell like a bag of candy. It’s the overall formula, the ratio of the terpenes that somehow makes it enjoyable.”

Finally – and here’s the smoking bong of the matter – I asked her about a rather toothy and imposing elephant within our state’s testing community. I was curious: did Cascadia’s testing differ at all from testing accompanying flower into the entry process?

“As a part of the competition [entry] process, cultivators submitted their compliance results (certificates of analysis, demonstrating that the flowers had passed for pesticides etc.). After Cascadia ran each flower through a rigorous panel of cannabinoids and terpenes, I had an undergrad student of mine compare the original certificates of analyses with Cascadia’s. We found very profound differences in the results for some labs, whereas others were very similar to Cascadia’s. Specifically, we found one lab that reported higher THC values (but not CBD values) for EVERY SINGLE cultivar that it had analyzed. A lot of the THC values were 6-7 percentage points higher than what Cascadia found. On a consumer’s package, that could be the difference between a 14% THC flower and a 21% flower… that’s a major sales incentive at the dispensary counter. We were pretty alarmed by this, and we turned over the de-identified data set (no lab names) to the regulators in Oregon, with the hope that they would investigate the matter further.”

…And there, friends, you have it. This is actually happening.

In the end, a proper appraisal of fine Cannabis and a true understanding of its potential is in fact several dimensions more complex than judging fine wine. What does this mean for the refined consumer?

WHAT WE CAN ALL DO
Personally: I want Cannabis to be grown better, smoked better and enjoyed more thoroughly all around. You should, too. Here’s some small but concrete steps we can all take to get past the bullshit and make this happen.

To the public:
Most importantly, above all else: Trust your nose and your eyes before you trust lab results on a sheet of paper. In Weed, as in life, this very simple practice will get you much closer to where you need to be. Look past the business and into the Art. Find the growers whose work speaks to your senses. Get to know what they’re all about. In the end: your brain will thank you.

When you walk into a dispensary and see some flower you’re interested in, your first immediate questions should be 1) Who grew it; and 2) Who tested it. Bluntly put, dispensaries that can’t automatically answer both of these questions should endure the side-eye from every customer who walks in until they get their shit together. There’s IPA and then there’s Root + Branch Brewing’s “Do We Live in a Society of Spectacle?” IPA; the difference between them is not ABV. If you want to find something truly spectacular to write home about, train yourself to ask the right questions. You won’t be disappointed with the outcome.

Once you get to know your growers and the labs who test them, the patterns will undoubtedly begin to emerge. It’ll become readily apparent fairly quickly which growers are doing phenomenal work that sticks to your palate and illuminates your senses. I guarantee you’ll see a direct correlation between true, quality-grown Cannabis and a dedication to labs that promote raw honesty over fluffed numbers.

Bug your favorite growers on IG. Ask them about grow methods, terroir, who they test with and why. It’s your lungs and your brain. You deserve to know. Furthermore, when you find a budtender who can correlate these answers on the spot, throw an extra dollar in the tip jar: this is a person who actually gives a shit about our industry and we need to keep them around.

And at the end of the day, if you really don’t feel like you’re high enough with something the label is telling you is 15%: Take a second hit. Congrats! You’re at 30% now. Repeat as necessary. Heck, with the proper tenacity you’ll be soaring along at 120%, even 135% in no time…

To the dispensaries:
As I mentioned to your customers just now, make sure your budtenders are up on their game and know, intimately, the Cannabis they’re selling. Your growers should be stopping in to have chats with your staff about their practices. How they grow is just as important as what they grow and your staff needs to be savvy to this. It’s a clear mark of quality and pride to walk into a spot and see that they list, proudly, which growers they rep. The time has come to stop having the “Who’s killing it right now” conversation in private amongst ourselves as industry workers: even if it’s a $2 gram, there’s enough people growing rec so you should be stoked on WHICH $2 gram you’ve got to offer. This raw numbers game is killing all of us, yourselves included. Take pride in what you do and whom you choose to work with.

There’s a few shops out there that either downplay or don’t even show THC numbers on their shelves. You guys know who you are, and serious fucking kudos to you for going so far ahead of the curve. In a broader sense, anywhere that displays the name of the farm in a bigger font that the THC score: you’re on the right side of history. I’ll be stoked in five years when you’re still in business.

To the labs:
Take pride in your work and trust in science. We all KNOW the brick walls you’re up against and the very easy paths of darkness you can take to make all your problems go away. Get aggressive on social media and in person in dispensaries. Develop direct relationships with the general buying public. You need to hype yourselves just like any other business, it’s how you do so and what aspects of your operation you highlight that matter. Throw your analytical balls in the ring and make it plain that your methods are transparent and you judge yourself not by the high numbers you put out but the accuracy of your science. Do vendor days like any other provider of Cannabis services. Avoid the easy money and build your reputation on solid ground.

To the growers:
Get proud! Grow what you smoke and don’t let a lab tell you otherwise. Stand behind your weed 110%. Spend just as many man hours out in dispensaries talking directly to consumers about what you grow and why you grow it as you do in the garden. Yes, I know you like to sleep occasionally: now is not the time. Running a game means just that: running. You CAN build your niche, through blood and sweat and a river of tears. Don’t build it on bullshit.

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Work with other growers. Work with dispensaries. Let’s talk about this en masse and stick together. If a group of growers organized and co-hosted a vendor day not built around THC numbers or how flashy their stickers are but to have a barbecue and a series of speeches talking to and educating the public about good farming practices and a sustainable culture: This is how we build the community we absolutely need to survive. Let’s put our energy in the right places instead of shafting each other with false science. Let’s rise above rather than rot below. Prohibition was a struggle none of us will forget anytime soon, nor should we. We beat that fucking rap, now let’s beat this one.

There it is, y’all: Let’s Fight, Let’s Win, Let’s Smoke Better Weed. Demand it at every opportunity. We were born to overgrow, now’s our moment. Not to worry, see you around the circle, Onward…
***


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“Dick Bailey Fitts is some newbie clown who started taking dabs recently and now he thinks he’s hot shit. He for sure hasn’t been growing as long as you and probably spends his free time raving about his favorite hotdog water carts to all his old frat bros from that expensive state college you hate. I’ll bet he’s middlemanning some fucking cockjob hemp biomass deal right now as we speak. When it’s done him and the other 34 Chads involved will probably don their male rompers and head down to the nearest upscale tiki bar for low carb mojitos and shitty fucking cigars they don’t even know how to smoke properly. Boy he pisses me off. Fuck him.”
-Dick B. Fitts
 

momofthegoons

Vapor Accessory Addict
Staff member
We've had several labs in Michigan that have been caught falsifying lab results. Apparently it's a widespread problem...

Lack of standards, dubious business practices threaten to upend cannabis testing industry


A lack of standards is among the factors plaguing the cannabis testing industry, threatening to undermine consumer confidence in marijuana products and making it harder for some testing businesses to operate, according to industry insiders.

But the problems don’t stop there, testing lab officials and regulators contend.

Some marijuana businesses – such as growers, processors and manufacturers – are shopping around for labs that will give them the results they want to see in the way of THC potency and contaminants, according to industry officials.

Other cannabis businesses are said to be sending in samples of their marijuana that have been adulterated with spray-on cannabis oil or dusted with THC crystals to give the impression of a higher THC content, among other practices.

Regulators, meanwhile, are shuttering testing labs for allegedly reporting results that don’t match up with audits.

Earlier this month, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) suspended the license of Praxis Laboratory for allegedly falsifying testing data on more than 1,200 samples of cannabis by providing higher THC numbers than tests actually found.

As it stands now, the Centralia, Washington-based lab is suspended for 180 days effective Dec. 10. While the lab is shuttered, state regulators will seek to permanently revoke its license.

According to an LCB release, “during the investigation the lab owner attempted to destroy evidence of falsified data in an effort to obstruct (the agency’s) ability to conduct a complete investigation.”

Praxis said in a statement to Marijuana Business Daily that the LCB’s decision was “in error and based on inaccurate information.” The lab is appealing the ruling.

In a separate statement to the Washington state cannabis community that was shared on social media, the company said, “This is a clear cut case of agency overreach and libel and we will be pursuing legal action immediately.”

The statement also noted that a disgruntled former employee stole data from the lab, then contacted the regulators.

Regulators elsewhere have shuttered cannabis labs for inaccurate or misleading test results.

In September 2019, the Nevada Tax Commission launched an investigation into marijuana testing labs in the state.

In February 2020, state regulators suspended the license of Certified Ag Labs and fined the business $70,000 for what was described as “inaccurate and misleading” potency in cannabis products that boosted THC levels by as much as 10%.

The lab was allowed to reopen.

A Certified Ag representative told MJBizDaily the company “had some bumps, but our data was plus or minus 10% and we stand behind it.”

Lab shopping

The practice of lab shopping – where cannabis growers or product makers look for a facility that will provide favorable results – has almost put Keystone State Testing out of business, said Dr. Kelly Greenland, CEO of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based marijuana testing lab.

“We have clients who test with us and never come back because their numbers are higher elsewhere,” she said.

In addition to higher potency levels, some cannabis businesses also seek favorable results for contaminants, including microbials and heavy metals.

“There are a few labs out there saying, ‘Tell me what you want it to say, and I’ll put it on the label,'” Greenland said

Pennsylvania’s regulations are adequate, she said, but they’re not being enforced.

“If you want to make sure this market is safe, you need to have safe regulations and you need to have your enforcement enforce the regulations that you’ve made,” Greenland said.

Testing labs promising quick turnaround times – less than 48 hours, for example – might be cutting corners. Greenland said it’s normal for a lab to take up to 72 hours to return results.

Growers and processors don’t have to try that hard to find good testing labs, according to Greenland.

But she added that often it doesn’t make good business sense to play by the rules, “as messed up as this sounds.”

A number of factors at play

The variability in testing results reflects a combination of factors, according to Alena Rodriguez, managing director of Rm3 Labs in Boulder, Colorado.

They include:

  • Labs using different testing methods.
  • Differing behavior among the businesses submitting samples for testing.
Rodriguez noted that variability exists among testing labs even in long-established industries with well-defined standards partly because labs operate with their own proprietary methods.

It’s not just standardization of methods that’s needed, she added, but also standardization of terminology.

For example, THC results can be defined on a dry-weight basis, but different cultivators have different drying and curing processes, and that can alter the results.

Not having homogenous samples is a core part of the problem.

Rodriguez said her lab often sees adulterated samples.

For example: Flower will come in sprayed with a sheen of distillate to increase the potency numbers. Or the flower might be “kiefed,” meaning dusted with additional THC crystals for the same reason.

In new rules scheduled for release on Jan. 1, 2021, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division plans to classify adulterated test samples as a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Rodriguez said her lab can have the best scientists and spend huge sums of money on lab equipment. But it won’t matter if the samples do not truly represent the plants and products that are supposed to be undergoing testing.

Changes might be coming in the months and years ahead, however.

Rodriguez co-chairs the Marijuana Science and Policy Work Group, which is working on protocols for each business to train the employees who are submitting samples for testing.

Overall, Rodriguez said it just takes time for a new industry to develop the necessary standards.

“Give it another five to 15 years,” she said.

More collaboration needed

At hemp testing lab Sante Laboratories, in Austin, Texas, President Mike Sandoval said a lack of standards and enforcement of those standards across the country is a key problem for both the marijuana and hemp industries.

“Falsifying lab data should be a crime, at least at the state level,” he said.

In Texas, according to Sandoval, regulators don’t have the analytical background to properly understand the requirements a lab should possess to produce quality results.

Just because a lab is ISO-17025 accredited doesn’t mean it’s doing a good job, he added.

A key obstacle to improving testing quality is a culture of secrecy among the testing labs. According to Sandoval, “it’s impossible to get another lab on the phone” to discuss testing methods, including how samples are prepared.

He’d like to see an open platform where lab workers could discuss science and breakthroughs.

As in other states, Sandoval said producers often want results quickly that favor the goals of the business. Shortcuts can cause incorrect results, but when companies don’t get the results they want, they’ll seek out another lab.

And it’s not as if Sandoval wants to tell a company its sample is contaminated or has low-potency.

“The worst part of my job is delivering bad data,” he said.
 

Basement Farmer

Well-Known Member
Caveat emptor..this unavoidable when you consider the relative value of the product being sold.


Maybe all the more reason to try and buy from reliable sources and avoid hyped up products that sound too good to be true.

It's been my experience has been that there is no discernible difference between products costing < $10 ....or 3X as much (other than costly stuff looking far more HT photo spread-worthy) Boutique bud is kind of lame....at boutique prices anyway.

I had a bud tender try and talk me into some much more expensive ~20% herb when the JH that I had driven hours to pick up suddenly wasn't in stock.....strictly because of the THC concentration. I think the employees may have been squirreling it as they miraculously found a 1/4 when I whined about it.

I mean, so what if your herb has half the THC concentration as long as the price accurately reflects what you're purchasing. If I'm in that big a hurry to get high I'll just use concentrates.
 

momofthegoons

Vapor Accessory Addict
Staff member
This isn't just happening in Michigan.

Super potent weed spurs distrust in Michigan marijuana industry


Michigan marijuana customers can’t always trust everything they read, especially when it comes to the THC content on their labels.

Formal complaints filed by the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) in May against Viridis Laboratories, one of the state’s largest marijuana safety testing businesses, raise questions about the THC potency figures the lab reports, and that ultimately end up on retail packaging labels. Information in those same complaints indicate the CRA isn’t empowered or isn’t willing to quickly address the problem.

THC potency drives sales more than any other characteristic of marijuana, industry insiders say. The higher the potency, the higher the price, in most cases. With Marijuana prices plummeting 41% over the last year, according to statements CRA Director Andrew Brisbo made during the agency’s quarterly meeting Thursday, June 16, how much customers will pay is more important than ever.

“Potency inflation is an ongoing, longstanding, widely known issue across cannabis in the U.S. right now in legal markets ... ” said Lev Spivak-Birndorf, founder and chief science officer for Ann Arbor-based PSI Labs, one of the first to be licensed in the state. “I call it the cycle of potency inflation: people want high potency, so then stores are under pressure to try and deliver that ... and that drives growers to seek labs that give the highest results, and thus, we have this rampant lab shopping that we have going on.”

Lab shopping refers to growers and processors actively seeking out labs that issue the most financially beneficial test results, those that are less apt to fail product for contaminates or assign higher THC potency results.

If you don’t have a good regulatory system in place to check and stop it, the problem perpetuates and compounds, said Spivak-Birndorf, who believes it’s more of an epidemic than single-lab issue.

Accusations

The issue of potency exaggeration isn’t a new one. In the case of Viridis, the CRA has been questioning the labs’ results and testing methods since at least December 2020, according to updated formal administrative complaints the CRA filed May 19. Administrative complaints frequently result in fines but can rise to the loss of licensing.

It’s CRA policy to audit results for any marijuana flower that tests with THC potency in excess of 28%. The complaints claim Viridis-tested samples fall within this range 8.9% of the time, more than seven times as frequently as samples tested by other labs across the state. In total, Viridis samples tested at its locations in Lansing and Bay City account for 78% of all audited high-potency samples. Viridis previously claimed a nearly 70% market share on all testing.

The CRA said the testing method Viridis is using to reach those economically desirable results aren’t approved. The agency first notified Viridis of this on Feb. 2, 2021, according to the administrative complaint. It’s not clear why the CRA hasn’t done more to ensure Viridis is using approved methods. The agency has the ability to place product that doesn’t meet safety standards on hold, thereby blocking its sale to customers.

“We need to decline comment as these questions pertain to matters current in litigation,” CRA spokesman David Harns told MLive when asked why the agency was allowing noncompliant marijuana to market.

Robert Teitel, president of Iron Labs in Walled Lake, reviewed the Viridis complaints and said it is “unheard of” that a lab would use testing methods not approved by the CRA.

“There’s no lab in the state that operates that way,” he said. “Every (standard operating procedure) we have is approved by the state and by an accrediting body.”

In response to CRA complaints against Viridis, as well as a record-breaking product recall issued on Viridis-tested product in November -- that was later partially reversed by a Court of Claims judge as unjustified -- Viridis filed its own formal complaint against the CRA in the state’s administrative court. That litigation is ongoing.

‘Meritless’ allegations

Following the CRA’s decision to recall an estimated 64,000 pounds of Viridis-tested marijuana with a retail value near $229 million, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce supported Viridis in its court battle. The politically and economically powerful business organization filled a brief in support of Viridis that said the CRA recall “unconstitutionally exceeds the scope of the agency’s legislatively approved mandate.”

The CRA has also faced criticism from lawmakers, including state Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, who called the recall “clumsy” and “poorly done.”

The CRA, -- at the time operating as the Marijuana Regulatory Agency -- publicly offered little evidence for its recall claim that Viridis test results were inaccurate or unreliable. Some of that evidence supporting the CRA stance later filtered out through court filings and testimony.

It was revealed that Viridis passed product that was subsequently found to have been contaminated with aspergillus, a potentially harmful mold that can cause lung infection, and didn’t use incubation logs, which are necessary to properly determine yeast and mold contamination, among other deficiencies that are included in the CRA’s most recent administrative complaints.

Viridis claims it’s being targeted because the CRA wants the market share more evenly spread among the licensed labs. There are currently 18 licensed to test recreational marijuana.

“These CRA allegations against Viridis are from last August and continue to be baseless, meritless and totally detached from science, facts and data,” Viridis CEO Greg Michaud said. “We intend to defend our business against these false claims during the court process and show the vindictive and retaliatory nature of the CRA’s actions which are clearly designed to cause maximum disruption and damage.

“Court-ordered proficiency test results that Viridis is in possession of, which the CRA had been withholding, will directly contradict these findings, and we’re confident the truth will prevail when all facts come to light. We hope these legal proceedings will pave the way for more transparency, accountability, and reforms at the CRA. Our hope is that the CRA can one day fulfill its true mission of promoting patient and product safety instead of unfairly targeting Michigan businesses trying to grow, compete and create jobs.”

The CRA each quarter conducts audits of labs by having them test samples from the same batch of product and comparing results. The findings have not been made public. Virids attorneys have sought but not obtained the results. MLive filed Freedom of Information Act records requests for the results but they were denied. The CRA maintains the results are confidential.

Loss of trust

Someone recently wanted to doublecheck the accuracy of marijuana with a retail label boasting THC potency unheard for flower: 40%.

“The sample was brought in sealed,” said Dr. David Crocker, COO of the Spott, a licensed safety compliance lab in Kalamazoo. “It was product that had previously been tested by Viridis. It came from a Lume dispensary with total cannabinoids just over 50% and total THC around 40%.”

The Spott ran it through its own potency test and reached a very different outcome. According to the Spott, the marijuana had a total of about 26.4% THC, compared to the 40.3% that appeared on the label. The Spott results and an image of the Lume product label were shared by an employee of the Spott on social media.

Lume, the grower of the strain, maintains the results are accurate.

“We tested the latest batch of Super Jenny several times with multiple independent labs and have full confidence that the THC percentages on our packaging labels are accurate,” Lume Chief Marketing Officer John Gregory said. “The fact is, given our state-of-the-art cultivation and unrivaled environmental controls, we are growing some of the most potent cannabis in the country and will continue to yield above-average THC percentage results.”

Viridis Laboratories CEO Greg Michaud also stands by the testing results.

“Our processes, from gathering and storing samples to testing, were developed through our founders’ expertise and decades of experience in forensic science and toxicology at the Michigan State Police,” Michaud said. “Viridis adheres to the highest standards based in science and best practices.”

Michaud and other company founders previously worked in the Michigan State Police Forensic Sciences Division testing seized drugs.

“Our labs have the highest accreditation awarded to cannabis testing laboratories from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation and they are the only labs in the state with a Patient Focused Certification through Americans for Safe Access,” Michaud said.

Crocker wouldn’t identify who submitted the sample to the Spott for testing.

“Never in my life,” he said when asked if he’s previously seen THC potency that high, but also added that it’s not surprising.

Growers and other customers “will say outright that they need high THC levels and low failure rates, in order to give you their business,” Crocker said. “I think human nature, being what it is, if you set up these perverse incentives, on the macro, the wrong things are going to happen.”



Spivak-Birndorf said 40% THC potency is far beyond any results his lab has ever seen.

“The highest we ever test or ever see is right around 32%,” said the doctor of geochemistry. “I looked at 7,900 samples we did over the last couple of years and in that data set 99.7% of them were below 30%.”

Crocker, who’s worked in the marijuana industry for 13 years, said issues with lab accuracy are tarnishing reputations of the marketplace and regulators.

“The people I talk to don’t trust a lot of the labs; they don’t trust the state,” he said.

Solving the problem

Spivak-Birndorf said part of the issue stems from the nature of the state’s safety system that relies on close business relationships. Labs are asked to be honest and accurate, but in doing so may have to disappoint their customers and cost them potentially tens of thousands of dollars along the way.

Spivak-Birndorf equated the system to previous failures with environmental testing in which businesses hired labs to tell them how much contamination they were putting into the environment. The labs downplayed results, leading environmental regulators to increase separation between testing entities and the companies they test.

“The cannabis industry hasn’t quite matured to that level of realization,” he said. “What Michigan is missing right now is a reference lab.”

A reference lab is a state-funded lab that is in place to audit the results of commercial labs. Their customer is the government.

“While a reference lab isn’t the silver bullet to solve everything,” Spivak-Birndorf said, “if you did have a lab that was kind of an uninterested party controlled by the state that was able to run tests on disputed samples, and actually weigh in on which was more accurate, that would make all the difference in the world.”

Perhaps the biggest factor, Spivak-Birndorf, Crocker and Teitel agree, is customer behavior. They’re the ones placing a premium on THC potency, something most in the industry think is misguided and the result of a lack of knowledge regarding cannabis use.

“I think it will sort itself out,” Crocker said. “I think eventually the public will come to realize in larger numbers that high THC doesn’t necessarily represent high value. It’s like saying pure grain alcohol is better than a good wine or something like that.

“I also think the public will begin to demand that the state regulates it properly so that the results they get are accurate and fair. When that happens, the labs will fall in line.”

In the meantime, labs that follow the rules and seek accuracy above all else may struggle. “There will probably be some that go out of business before this gets sorted out,” Crocker said.

“In its current trajectory, the commercially regulated market in Michigan is at risk of kind of going off the rails here,” Spivak-Birndorf said. “Consumers need to mature, the state needs to get better at their jobs ... and distributors and buyers need to help consumers get educated and not so fixated on THC, especially given that’s what’s on the label may not reflect true potency.

"And on the lab side of it we have to have an ethical duty to try our best to put out what we think is the most accurate information and not fall into the trap of trying to succeed in business by providing information that might be more desirable to our clients.”

Read superseding complaint filed against Viridis here.
 

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