Last week, the California cannabis industry was thrown into a frenzy by the release of an article titled, “The dirty secret of California’s legal weed,” by The LA Times and WeedWeek investigative reporters. The bombshell article discussed some of the major issues plaguing the industry as it grapples to blossom into a fully realized, legitimate industry, ranging from faulty lab results, bad actors on the brand side, and a lack of conviction from the DCC. While the article raises some valid concerns and persistent issues regarding the current state of lab testing, the scientists in us wanted to dissect and analyze the claims and verify if the issues should be sent back for remediation or need to destroy the entire batch.  

The Issues With Pesticides

The investigation for the article centers around the findings of excessive amounts of pesticides in various vape and pre-roll products.  

“25 of 42 legal cannabis products that The Times and WeedWeek purchased from retail stores…exceed the federal standards for tobacco.”  

This point stands out as a major concern when taken at face value. However, when looking at the federal standards of tobacco products, there are no set limits on pesticide residue allowed within tobacco products. The broader issue in this case is the fact that the article cites pesticides that are not currently required analytes under DCC regulations. These analytes are chosen by the governing body for each state, the DCC in California, but each state is different and requires different amounts of pesticides and limits for each one. For example, in Oklahoma, the current regulations require that cannabis products are tested for 13 pesticides, which is less than half of what is required in California. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 1,000 pesticides used around the world, so is it feasible to require labs to test for all the possible pesticides that could be used? California maintains some of the strictest regulations of any state with 66 pesticides required for a full panel, but even if the DCC raised the amount to 100 pesticides, which will be the case in Colorado starting July 1st of this year, there would still be other pesticides that could be used by manufacturers and cultivators that could be harmful to consumers.  

Looking beyond the issue of pesticides, the same can be said of any required test and has been a huge concern since the legalization of Cannabis in the state. Bad actors within the industry hopping from lab to lab, threatening to leave if the results aren’t what was expected, and labs happy to oblige to enhance their own reputation and increase profits.

Bogus Brands

We are all aware of the types of brands and companies that can exist within the cannabis industry. While they are not unique to cannabis, they seem to be a bit more widespread and commonplace. Labs interact with these types of people daily and have become accustomed to their tactics. Potency shopping, the practice of companies jumping from lab to lab to find the one that will provide the highest THC results, was such a rampant issue that the DCC attempted to remedy it by forcing a set method and standardization for potency. The efficacy of the method has been called into question, but it is emblematic of the state of the industry as a whole. The truth remains, as long as there is money to be made, there will continue to be bad actors that are in it to try and line their own pockets.  

However, the article does well to point out that many of these brands are around due to the plethora of unlicensed cannabis operations. Many trap shops that operate in California are so well run; the average consumer wouldn’t even know that they have stepped foot in an illegal operation. Reputable brands can also fall prey to unknowingly dealing with unlicensed operations and inadvertently source bulk oils and flower that have been contaminated. These bad actors that look to deceive highlight the key importance of verifiable, consistent lab testing to help combat the issues.

Testing Labs

A small group of testing labs came together to help conduct the research for this article. They are working to shed light on the often-shady operations that we labs deal with every day and how we often work at odds with the companies and brands that want to push as many products out onto dispensary shelves as quickly as possible. We here at Encore Labs always work to uphold our standards and mission to help provide clean, safe cannabis for all. We will continue to work with our clients to ensure that they are educated and utilize best practices to keep their products safe for consumption and recall free.  

The article does point out that many labs do not hold the same standards and cites references of products that had passed compliance tests and had Certificates of Analysis (COA) from state licensed laboratories, but upon retest showed levels of pesticides above the legal limit, and often inconsistent potency results. The claims of widespread fraud stem from a lack of checks and balances within the current system and will only continue to exist until the governing bodies are able to take meaningful action.

The DCC

The DCC has gone through many changes since its original inception as the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) back in 2017. Notoriously slow, it previously took aspiring licensees ages to get their licenses, hear feedback on their current applications, or really get any communication back at all. The DCC has done a better job at being more communicative with its constituents, but it still has not done enough to combat the bad actors and illegal operators that have flooded the space. The article details how many times complaints and inaccuracies have been submitted to the DCC, only for no action to be taken. Then the following week, a recall will be issued for a completely different product that was not on the radar of any labs. It is clear that the DCC lacks the proper resources and direction to adequately handle the size and complexity of the California market, which is not necessarily an indictment of the DCC as an organization, but one of the state governments that only seem to be interested in gaining the tax revenue from legal marijuana, but are not willing to help build the required infrastructure to ensure it’s public acceptance.

Conclusion

Encore Labs commends the effort and work put in to bringing light on the inner workings of the California cannabis industry by The LA Times and WeedWeek. However, we do feel that the negative light painted by the article is not the entire picture. The issues highlighted within the article point to one clear solution, federal legalization. The variance between labs, the allowance for bad actors to flourish, and governing bodies that are ill equipped to incite meaningful action will not improve until the entire industry is released from the shackles of illegitimacy. Encore Labs continues to push for best practices within the industry and always maintains our integrity and standards above all else. We hope that this article continues to spark the conversation of how to improve the cannabis industry overall and to prove that legalization and a thriving cannabis landscape can mutually coexist.