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California Cracks Down on Cannabis Lab Testing to Combat Labeling Scams



Effective January 1, California has taken a drastic measure to tackle widespread labeling scams in the cannabis industry by suspending testing of popular products at a majority of pot labs previously certified for checking the potency of cannabis flower.

The state's legal cannabis industry has long faced allegations of labs artificially inflating THC levels in cannabis products to enhance their market values. In response, the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) has introduced new testing requirements specifically for cannabis flower, the smokable form of the drug, encompassing bud and non- infused pre-rolls.

As of January 3, only 12 out of the state's 38 labs have met these new requirements, as reported on the DCC's website. Noncompliant labs can still test other products, such as edibles and vape pens. However, until they demonstrate compliance with the new standards, they will be prohibited from testing flower, which is the most popular category of legal weed.

Under California law, all cannabis products must undergo testing at state-certified labs for contaminants like pesticides and THC potency, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. The THC potency is typically displayed as a percentage on packages of cannabis flower, akin to the labeling of alcohol percentages on beer or wine.

Despite the reduction in licensed labs, the DCC does not expect delays in products reaching the market. David Hafner, a spokesperson for the agency, stated that more labs are likely to be approved in the future. He emphasized the agency's commitment to enforcing the rules and encouraged collaboration with approved labs.

The new regulations stem from a 2021 law passed by the state Legislature aimed at combating labeling fraud in the legal cannabis market. Labs, incentivized by the potential for higher prices for products labeled with increased THC content, have frequently inflated test results. A 2022 study revealed that 87% of tested products had lower potencies than indicated on the label, leading to class action lawsuits against cannabis companies for false advertising.

Nicole Elliott, the DCC Director, has labeled potency inflation as a result of unscrupulous labs intentionally undermining regulations, scamming consumers, and jeopardizing public health. The DCC issued warnings to labs in 2021, actively retesting products and threatening license revocation for labs issuing inaccurate results.

CEOs of verified labs, such as Josh Swider of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in San Diego, believe the new requirements will curb lab fraud. However, they stress the importance of active DCC monitoring to ensure compliance with the standards, signaling a potential restart for testing potency in the California cannabis market. Hafner warned that labs testing without certification under the new standards could face disciplinary actions for non-compliance.

This story was originally published by SFGate.