By Gus Burns | firstname.lastname@example.org | April 14, 2021
Alcohol connoisseurs develop vast, specific preferences. Some like IPA beers, others
Merlot wines or Irish whiskey. If current retail marijuana preferences were analogized to alcohol, the most sought after-strains would always be Everclear, chosen solely for THC potency, said David Egerton, a chemist who runs a Michigan lab that tests cannabis products. THC content is one of the main factors in wholesale and retail demand and pricing, however, marijuana safety lab directors, growers and regular customers tell MLive that’s not the best basis for making a purchase.
The cannabis plant is extremely complex, with thousands of compounds that affect a
user’s experience and the high they feel. As the market matures and evolves, there’s a push within the industry to present more data to customers, especially regarding the hundreds, if not thousands of other of cannabinoids and terpenes that impact the experience. “There’s always been a drive to push that THC number as high as possible,’ said Egerton, who manages Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in Jackson. “Certainly, THC is the psychoactive ingredient present within cannabis, but it’s not the whole story.”
Clearly, there is an incentive for companies selling cannabis concentrate or flower to find the lab that will report the highest THC concentration – higher THC equals more profit. This has left the industry vulnerable to the practice of “lab shopping.” It’s not difficult to find a lab that’s willing to boost numbers to gain more business (or so I’ve been told). I’ve lost count of the number of times people ask me to bump potency up with the promise of money or “earning the account.” One request we get from producers more than you would believe is to guarantee their flower always tests over 30 percent THC. I value ethics over profits. However, not every lab in the industry does. When I refuse to ensure over 30 percent THC, the grower has no problem calling the next lab on the list.
Lab shopping is not only unethical in that it misleads consumers – it also hinders the industry. I have clients who will test a concentrate sample and get 87 percent THC during R&D, then take it to another lab that will report a 95 percent THC at compliance. This leaves me with two choices: I can start inflating numbers to earn a company’s business or continue to provide precise, quality analytics and potentially miss out on millions of dollars in revenue.
It comes down to scientific as well as personal integrity and ethics. Lab operators should ask themselves why they are in this industry: is it public safety and science, or is it to make money at the public’s expense? As chemists, we don’t spend time and effort earning degrees to fudge potency results for someone to sell their product at top dollar. If consumers knew the rampant nature of THC inflation, they would have zero confidence in results posted by most labs. If people cannot have confidence in potency results, how can they have confidence in the accuracy of safety tests?
The current regulations set for testing pesticides are another massive contributor to lab shopping. The 66 analytes we are required to test for are split into two different categories: 45 belong to Category 2 and have an action limit for the maximum amount allowed before causing a sample to fail. If any amount of the other 21 pesticides (Category 1) are detected, it will result in a failed batch.
The only analytical requirement for Category 1 pesticides by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control is that the laboratory must quantify them above 100 parts per billion (PPB). This is when the quality of a lab (and its analytical scientists) really comes into play. If a lab has done its job and created a method that is as sensitive as possible for consumer safety, it will be the best lab for the public and the worst lab for its clients. For example, one lab might have a limit of detection of 30 PPB, but another has a limit of 75 PPB. A sample with a pesticide concentration at 50 PPB would fail at the first lab and pass at the second. This problem is not new – it has been discussed for years, yet it remains in the regulations. We’ve unknowingly participated in many blind spiked sample studies by clients, where a contaminated sample was sent to multiple labs. The results prove that other labs are missing category 1 and 2 pesticides over action levels or required LOQ.
Misreporting pesticides is harmful to consumers and creates an unequal playing field in the lab industry. Current Category 1 pesticide testing regulations allow cannabis companies to work with a lab with less stringent standards than competitors. Instead, regulators need to assign action limits to all pesticides. California regulators should conduct a blind study to reveal how well cannabis is currently being tested – and how much danger they are exposing residents to under the current system. Until then, consumers will continue to be at risk of buying products that advertise inflated potency values or, worse, fail to meet the safety standards for consumption.
Just more than a year after recreational cannabis sales began in Michigan, the state’s legal cannabis market has grown by leaps and bounds and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In December, Michigan showed the highest growth in sales of any legal cannabis market in the U.S., posting a 146% gain in gross merchandise value over the previous year, according to data from wholesale cannabis marketplace LeafLink.
Jeff Radway, the CEO of premium cannabis purveyor Skymint, says that Michigan’s recreational cannabis market has developed “at the speed of light” since legalization.
“It’s been a fascinating challenge to keep pace with. In December of 2019, Michigan became the tenth state in the U.S. to legalize adult-use cannabis,” Radway wrote in an email to High Times. “Less than a year in, it surpassed Nevada to become the fifth highest-grossing state for cannabis sales and is now on track to surpass $1 billion in sales in 2021. In addition to its fast-growing new recreational market, Michigan’s medical market is ranked #2 in the country, second only to California.”
Medical Marijuana Leads The Way
Michigan’s success is due largely to its existing infrastructure for medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2008. With a well established medical marijuana program in the state prior to recreational legalization, Michigan already had a large customer base that was ready to see the market grow. But David Egerton, laboratory director at Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs, said that some of the credit for Michigan’s success should also go to state regulators. He said that officials with Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) have been much more open to feedback from businesses in the industry than their counterparts in California, where his company began its foray into licensed cannabis laboratory testing.
So far, “the MRA has made more than 40 changes to the initial set of regulations to prioritize public health and safety, update testing regulations, and make it easier for companies to operate and develop new products.”
“Companies within the state are doing their best to adapt to new regulations, and it’s been a breath of fresh air to have the MRA listen and act upon the feedback that licensed operators provide,” Egerton said in a virtual interview.
Pivoting To The Adult-Use Market
While by some measures the legalization of recreational pot has been a resounding success, Egerton notes that the medical marijuana operators that pioneered regulated cannabis in Michigan haven’t fared as well.
“The transition to the adult-use market has up-rooted the small-scale, caregiver focused supply chain in an analogous manner to California in 2016 to 2017, and the ripple effect is still being felt across the industry,” he said. “While some of the caregivers were able to shift to the licensed marketplace, many others have dropped out as multi-state operators have moved in to compete.”
One of the medical providers navigating the path to the regulated adult-use market is Ghostbudster Farms, an operation with six years experience in Michigan’s medical market. Part-owner Chris Michael says that the transition has been a difficult one, particularly because of steep financial requirements.
“You have to show $500,000 in liquid assets for just a cultivation license,” Michael said in a telephone interview, referring to a Class C license which allows up to 1,500 plants.
“If you wanted a processing license, you had to show another $500,000,” and so on. “You’re looking at millions of dollars in just showing in assets and liquid before you can actually even get approved.”
“It wasn’t steered toward the grassroots movement,” Michael added. “This is where it came from and these are the people that originally started this movement. And they started this and it just spiraled out and turned completely corporate.”
Michael says that Michigan has seen an influx of capital from out of state funding operations that he believes see profit as the prime motivator.
“I’m out here doing it for the love of cannabis and the properties of this plant and what it can actually do,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that are here just for the money grab. It’s like that in every industry, but this one specifically a lot more.”
The Future Looks Bright
That isn’t the case with Skymint, which is 85% self-funded. Radway said that he is proud to have built his company from the ground up in his home state of Michigan. He’s optimistic about the future of the state’s regulated cannabis market, and said that companies with a strong brand strategy are likely to continue to grow as Michigan’s cannabis industry sees more players enter the market this year and beyond.
“The dramatic rise in 2020 retail cannabis sales reflects a shift Michigan consumers are making from the illicit market to the regulated marketplace,” he said. “As our legal market continues to mature and evolve, Michigan consumer habits are going to as well, and this is where top-notch branding, customer service, and consumer loyalty programs will prove critical in 2021.”
One lab analyst well placed to see how regulations could be done differently is Josh Swider, founder and CEO of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs.
After a successful few years testing cannabis out of San Diego, Swider and his business partner decided to open a second location in Jackson, Michigan. The move has given the lab operators a new perspective on California’s situation, and they believe that adopting some aspects of Michigan’s approach could greatly benefit the Golden State’s market.
To learn more about these interstate differences and what Michigan’s approach could offer, Analytical Cannabis caught up with Swider to talk all things testing.
Talking reform with Infinite CAL
“One thing that’s great in Michigan is the labs,” Swider tells Analytical Cannabis. “There’s only 11 out there right now compared to 34 in California, but once a month we have a phone call with the various people high up that can make changes, and actually get the ball rolling.”
“[Regulators] believe we’re the people on the ground that should probably have the best opinion, because we are the scientists. I feel like we’re treated out there [in Michigan] with a lot more respect for what we do.”
Whether it be due to the smaller number of labs or just having a different regulatory process, Swider says that the regulators in Michigan have also been quicker to make changes based on the opinions of the scientific testing staff.
“For example, in Michigan last week I talked about how I think it’d be very important to have a training session quarterly that every lab jumps on, where they go over problems that they’re seeing or to clarify some regulations and things like that, a simple thing,” Swider says.
“Within one week they set up a meeting[…] to start going over the rules and make sure everything’s fine – clarifying things. So, to see Michigan within one week make a change based upon a suggestion that they thought was a good idea, it’s amazing. And that’s what I’d love to see California do.”
San Diego, California, Nov. 23, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — via NewMediaWire — Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs (“InfiniteCAL” or “the Company”), a full-service analytical testing lab for the cannabis and hemp industries, announced today that the Company has reported a 31% increase in revenue through the first three quarters of 2020 in comparison to the first three quarters of 2019. The continued growth is a result of an increase in demand due to cannabis being deemed an essential business this year prompting the need for new hires to the team, the launch of the Company’s second lab based in Jackson, Michigan, and plans for a larger lab in San Diego to increase customer intake set to open in early 2021.
Since the height of the global pandemic in March, InfiniteCAL has added nine employees to their team noting key hires including Lab Managers Andy Sattler, Ph.D. and Joe Maricelli, Ph.D., and Lab Director David Egerton at the Jackson facility and Senior Analyst I Erik Paulson, Ph.D. at the San Diego facility. In addition, the Company has built out a communications team to better serve clientele, handle intake, and respond to real-time regulatory and compliance developments within the cannabis space.
InfiniteCAL’s Michigan based lab, which launched in August, is the second lab in the state to hold adult-use licensing and is on track to seize 50 percent of the market share after just three months in operation. The Company plans to increase its revenue in Michigan by 25% month over month.
“InfiniteCAL is proud to be on the frontlines of cutting edge science and protocols within the cannabis laboratory testing space,” said InfiniteCAL Co-founder and CEO Joshua Swider. “We have recruited top talent and implemented validated methods and procedures to best support operators with their testing needs. Expanding our operations from California into the recently created adult-use market in Michigan allows even more consumers to access safe and compliantly tested cannabis products. We look forward to continuing to enhance our operations as we enjoy further growth in 2021 and beyond.”