Two recalls of medical cannabis products in Denver in one week earlier this month followed recent newspaper exposés that showed unacceptable levels of pesticides. Those recalls follow similar revelations about medical cannabis products being sold in Oregon, including some that were labeled as having been tested but still contained banned pesticides.
While some of the problems are the result of cultivators using bad methods, the lack of clear state regulations about what can be used and how has contributed to confusion that puts patients at risk. Similar problems affect the reliability of testing and labeling protocols.
As state regulators grapple with how to regulate an emerging industry and the medical cannabis industry works to create best-practice standards, all will do well to look to the work already done by established experts in botanical medicines and other herbal products.
National standards for the production of cannabis products have been created by the American Herbal Products Association, drawing from their decades of experience with botanical medicines. The AHPA recommendations for regulators and industry reach from seed to sale, including not just safe cultivation practices but sound manufacturing techniques that limit the chance of contamination and protocols for ensuring that labeling is accurate and mistake free.
As a study in Oregon demonstrated, extracts are particularly problematic because the process of concentrating the cannabinoids and terpenes that make the medicine more potent and effective also concentrates any contaminants in the plant material. The Colorado recall earlier this month involved concentrated products sold by a manufacturer who had obtained the raw plant material from a licensed cultivator. The cultivator admitted using unapproved pesticides. Some of the products were also mislabeled as to the origins of the plants used to produce them, a problem the manufacturer blamed on a former employee.
The Denver Department of Environmental Health and the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division were responsible for ordering the recall, but not because they caught the problem. The recall resulted came after the Denver Post published the results of their own lab tests that detected the pesticides.
As worrisome as these sort of revelations are for patients with compromised immune systems and delicate health, it would be a mistake to think this is something new. Pesticides and contaminants have long been a problem for all agricultural products, particularly expensive ones that can yield large profits.
The exposés in Colorado and Oregon are great news for patients in that they highlight the growing concern for consumer safety and quality assurance. More states are instituting quality controls in the form of requirements for testing and labeling, but those are only as good as their protocols. And many states have failed to identify what cultivation products are acceptable for use when growing cannabis. Nor can consumers look for organic labeling because organic certification is a federal matter that cannabis is exclude from.
That’s where ASA’s Patient Focused Certification comes in. As an independent 3rd-party auditing and verification system, PFC gives industry, regulators, and consumers confidence that their cannabis products meet the standards established by AHPA and other leading experts in the field.