Is your lab ready to meet the challenge?
Last year’s elections saw voters in five states approve broader legalization of marijuana and cannabis products. That momentum will continue in 2021 as those states implement the new laws and several more states head down the path to legalization. Testing labs have the resources needed to support their states’ growing cannabis industries, but are they ready for the unique regulatory challenges posed by cannabis testing?
What is the Legalization Outlook?
In 2020, all but three states and one US territory were somewhere along the path to full legalization. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:
- Eleven states either allow cannabis products with low THC levels or allow people to use low-THC content as a legal defense.
- Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia and three territories have legalized medical marijuana.
- Fourteen states, the District of Columbia and three territories have legalized adult use.
These totals include the results of last year’s ballots where voters in five states approved further legalization. Voters in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey approved adult-use ballot measures. In Mississippi, voters approved medical marijuana. And people in South Dakota decriminalized both medical and adult-use.
The cannabis industry expects this momentum to continue in 2021. Four states are likely to approve or expand medical marijuana laws:
- South Carolina
Another five states may expand or approve adult-use laws:
- New Mexico
- New York
Efforts to expand marijuana legalization in seven more states may not produce results for a few more years:
- North Dakota
The COVID-19 pandemic is a major force behind this new momentum. The flow of other sales and income taxes has slowed to a trickle while spending on public health and financial relief programs has soared. States need ways to balance their budgets and a growing cannabis industry offers huge upsides. A limited study by the Urban Institute found that, in 2018, five states generated more than $1.2 billion in tax revenue from adult-use marijuana sales. But the cannabis industry is especially robust in adverse conditions and continues to do well. Expanding access to cannabis products gives lawmakers a way to grow the economy and close their spending gaps.
As always, local politics will determine whether this next round of legalization succeeds. New York came close to approving adult-use legislation in 2020 but failed, in part, due to divisions over how to spend the new tax money. Many legislators believe much of the money should help the disadvantaged communities that historically bore the brunt of anti-drug enforcement. In more purple states like Pennsylvania, traditional political splits could keep legislation from passing.
What Does Legalization Mean for Testing Labs?
Testing lies at the heart of marijuana legalization. Medical marijuana products must be tested for THC content as well as meet drug safety rules. Consumer-ready edibles and other adult-use products must meet food safety regulations. The entire cannabis product pipeline from growers to retailers and dispensaries depends on cannabis test results to prove their compliance with state marijuana regulations.
But things haven’t always gone well. Some labs take an outlaw approach to cannabis testing with sloppy processes, poor record-keeping and even outright fraud. Misleading test results, whether accidental or intentional, lead to expensive product recalls. Outlaw testing can also lead to tighter scrutiny from politicians and more expensive regulations.
Reputable test labs and the cannabis industry are taking steps to stamp out the bad actors by adopting standards like ISO/IEC 17025. Although not specific to the cannabis industry, these standards provide an objective measure of a laboratory’s capabilities and reliability. When growers, processors and other stakeholders only deal with accredited laboratories, it raises the entire industry’s integrity.
Laboratories that already offer testing services to the food or drug industries could expand to support their states’ expanding cannabis industries. After all, they have the trained staff and resources. But the regulated cannabis industry has unique requirements.
Many state regulations, for example, mandate “seed-to-sale” tracking of commercial cannabis products. In addition, county and city governments may have their own track-and-trace requirements. Labs must be ready to support these overlapping systems before receiving state cannabis licenses.
To help labs launch cannabis testing services faster, LabLynx, Inc. created CannaQA, its laboratory information management system (LIMS) optimized for the unique requirements of the cannabis industry. CannaQA consolidates a laboratory’s data-handling processes into a single cloud database. By eliminating disparate paper-and-spreadsheet processes and creating a single source of truth, CannaQA improves accuracy, reduces turn-around times and makes compliance and reporting significantly easier.
Laboratories’ can begin this process at the point of collection with LabLynx’s C-SIC Kit sample information collection kit. Using handwritten records and labels in the field often leads to transcription errors during accessioning. The C-SIC Kit includes a wireless tablet, barcode printer and barcode scanner that integrate with CannaQA and make sample data digital from the beginning.
CannaQA can integrate with laboratory equipment and analytical systems to automate data handling throughout the testing process. For example, an instrument links with the CannaQA database to ensure the right samples are being used with the right tests, and results are tied to the correct samples.
CannaQA’s LIMS offers further benefits for labs working in the highly-regulated cannabis industry. Going digital during sample collection improves compliance with track-and-trace laws, as does CannaQA’s integration with commonly-mandated systems such as BioTracTHC, Leaf and Metrc, making reporting easier. Having every step of the testing process documented in CannaQA also facilitates accreditation with ISO/IEC 17025 and other standards.
Labs planning to support their states’ expansion of cannabis legalization can have CannaQA up and running in as little as a week. Or LabLynx can help customize CannaQA for your unique requirements. For more information, visit CannaQA.com or contact LabLynx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-LABLYNX (522-5969).
- “State and Local Finance Initiative, Marijuana Taxes”, Urban Institute.
- “Marijuana Deep Dive”, National Conference of State Legislatures.
- “These four states could legalize medical marijuana through legislation in 2021”, Marijuana Business Daily
- “$6 billion question: Which states are likely to legalize recreational marijuana in 2021?”, Marijuana Business Daily