While the process may be slower than expected, Nevada’s diligence in setting the gold standard for medical marijuana testing will pay off. Patients may not have previously given a second thought to—or had been aware of—the myriad of potential contaminants that could be present in their medication. But with a recent pesticide scare and dosing discrepancies in Colorado, the plan in Nevada is to get it right the first time without backpedaling after an incident.
“I believe that both California and Colorado let the ‘pot industry’ get ahead of the ‘testing rules’ and have been playing catch-up ever since—to the detriment of the medical marijuana patients,” says Dr. Bruce Burnett, cofounder of Ace Analytical Laboratory. “The entire cannabis industry has learned from the Colorado debacle related to dosages and packaging earlier this year. Nevada, clearly, is the world’s leader in regulating the gaming industry and can likewise be recognized as setting the testing standards for the medical marijuana industry.”
Todd Denkin, CEO at DigiPath, points out that mandatory testing laws around the country outside of Nevada are quite lax. “My feeling is if we’re going to call this medicine, we have to treat it like medicine. So I’m very proud of what Nevada has put together. California is still the Wild West where testing is not even mandatory. It’s really done for a marketing purpose and most folks are just testing for THC content and nothing else.” He adds that Colorado only tested for potency until the pesticide scare forced them to change their approach.
“I think one of the things the state has put a lot of emphasis on is patient safety,” says Isaac Maceo, lab manager at G3 Labs. “We’re dealing with a lot of contaminants that the state wants to keep out of the product.”
Though the definitive pesticide policy is being hatched as of press time, earlier this summer the state did release a list of 41 analytes with low levels of acceptability that are nearly zero, Denkin explains. Other examples of the myriad of testing that will be required in Nevada covers lead, arsenic, mercury, bacteria, fungus, mold, yeast, E. coli, salmonella and more.
“We also want to make sure that if they do take this product, they’re not going to have any side effects or adverse reactions to the product because it’s been contaminated by the way that someone is growing the product,” says Maceo.
In addition to testing for harmful contaminants of medical marijuana, patients will also have the added benefit of efficacy testing. “We give a complete cannabinoid analysis as well as a terpenoid analysis,” says Denkin of DigiPath. “The state recommends we turn in results for nine terpenoids, we have identified 23, so we do a little more than the state requires because we feel it’s important to the patient.”
Potency is another added testing benefit in Nevada, as many reports from other states show gross mislabeling on products such as edibles. “Obviously we want the patient to have the amount of medicine they’re required to have,” says Maceo. Patients will also be getting the percentages of THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA and CBN.
“It is essential for the medical marijuana patients to have access to cannabis products that are safe, free of any contaminating substances, and uniformly consistent,” Burnett explains. “It is also vitally important that the products are well characterized so the patient can determine which products are best suited to improving the condition for which he or she is using medical marijuana.”
Additionally, Nevada patents will have comfort in knowing the strain they’re paying for is in fact what it says it is. “Just because they say they have a ‘Blue Dream’ doesn’t mean they’re growing a Blue Dream,” notes Denkin. “It means the person they got this Blue Dream genetics from told them it was a Blue Dream. But it could be any other strain, there’s no way of trademarking or patenting these marijuana plants. The only way to determine what is inside this plant, if it really is doing what it is supposed to be doing, is based on the cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles.”
The only downside in Nevada is patients that grow their own medicine are not eligible for having their personal medication tested. The current law only allows for the labs to test marijuana from a state-approved medical marijuana establishment. However, state-approved cultivators, production facilities, edible makers and dispensaries will have tested products.
So when can we expect to see this intensely scrutinized medical marijuana available for patients in the dispensaries? “At Ace Analytical Laboratory, we expect to be open in Q3 and will work closely with cultivators, dispensaries and producers to not only help them meet the state requirements, but assist them with optimizing their procedures and products so their offerings can be clearly differentiated in the marketplace,” Burnett says.
“The main sticking point has been the state trying to decide where the pesticide levels will be,” says Maceo. “There is ILAC, the Independent Laboratory Committee, hat recommends to the state what should be tested for.”
Maceo says that while the state is taking it slow, it’s not a bad thing when you think about the protection of the patient. “It’s difficult to say when we’ll be fully up and running, but I’m hoping within the next month to see people growing and most of the laboratory testing for all of these things.”
Denkin thinks Nevada is playing it smart. “Although it’s caused a delay, a bit of an uproar, I believe they’re doing everything right. DigiPath is currently open and ready to test medical marijuana. The difficulty is there are only a few licensed MMEs that have plants in the ground. There’s a couple of them here in Southern Nevada, there’s a couple in Northern Nevada, but to grow marijuana it’s a three-month process at a minimum.”
Though the waiting is difficult, the safety will be worth it. “We can’t call this medicine on one side of it and introduce a poison on the other side of it,” Jed Tutera of G3 Labs adds. “Medical marijuana has to be safe for the consumer because some of the people have compromised immune systems and in order to call this medicine, we have to keep the tests at the most stringent levels—and that’s what Nevada is doing.”