California’s next phase of testing costs may create ‘another enormous burden’ for licensed cultivators

Sources affirmed that medical cannabis businesses who passed Phase 1 or Phase 2 testing requirements prior to the December 31 cut-off can legally sell their products without worrying about Phase 3


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Cali-based cannabis cultivators will need to loosen their purse strings a little bit more this year, thanks to California’s new cannabis testing regulations.

On December 31, 2018, a new round of regulations went into effect, contributing to a 40-55 percent increase in laboratory cannabis testing fees. The regulations, namely the “Phase 3 rules,” will apply not only for cannabis cultivators in California but also, creators of concentrates and infused products. This is according to claims from industry experts.

If cultivators of the medicinal plant are to adhere to California’s new cannabis testing regulations, all harvested cannabis and cannabis-derived products must be tested for a number of substances deemed unsafe for consumption. They include toxins, mycotoxins and any toxins developed from a mold source.

Any brands that use labeling to declare specific terpenes contained in their products must first pass terpenes tests. When it comes to inhalable cannabis products and edibles, both solid and semi-solid, the level of water contained inside each product must be determined with a water activity test.

The announcement of California’s new cannabis testing regulations indicate the state’s most recent effort to introduce more strict testing standards for weed cultivators and manufacturers. Medical cannabis business owners are raising concerns regarding the new regulations, with many worrying about the lack of laboratories available to conduct the testing.

Moreover, “cannapreneurs” are concerned about the consistent price increase for cannabis compliance testing. Since there is a risk of heavy metal traces being found in cannabis, sources say that lots of products could fail California’s new cannabis testing regulations. More intensive testing for heavy metals could present cultivators and product manufactures with obstacles, say industry officials.

“We still don’t have enough data to predict trends [in tests for heavy metals], but we are seeing some disturbing patterns,” said Chief Scientific Officer of Cannalysis Labs, Swetha Kaul.

Kaul revealed how certain cultivators had already failed R&D tests for heavy metals after submitting soil and flower samples. Some of those samples, it is uncertain how many, were 10-20 times higher than what was allowed under California’s cannabis testing regulations.

Financial concerns are surfacing for cannabis company owners, such as the president and CEO of Oakland-based Nug, John Oram.

“My sense is there are not enough qualified laboratories that are able to do (Phase 3 testing),” said Oram.

Companies with lack of capital will likely struggle most in terms of covering the following laboratory costs:

  • New instruments for heavy metal testing. Equipment of this kind, such as an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry unit, costs around $250,000.
  • Hiring and training costs for cannabis testing, since additional analysts may be required to perform the task.
  • New chemicals for Phase 3 tests, such as highly concentrated nitric and hydrochloric acids. In certain laboratories, ventilation systems may also need to be upgraded to handle the new batch of chemicals required under California’s new cannabis testing regulations.

Clayton Coker is the co-founder of an infused cannabis product manufacturing company in San Francisco called Somatik. He described the Phase 3 testing as “another absolutely enormous burden” on legal weed businesses.

Then again, sources affirmed that medical cannabis businesses who passed the Phase 1 or Phase 2 testing requirements prior to the December 31 cut-off would be able to sell their products without worrying about Phase 3.