Enforcing Checks and Balances in Hemp Testing

Published: October 29, 2021

The industry has progressed a lot over the last decade. Now, it needs even more - a loose-knit system just wouldn't cut it for long-term growth.
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The industry has progressed a lot over the last decade. Now, it needs even more – a loose-knit system just wouldn’t cut it for long-term growth.

Section 1103 of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) legalized the commercial production of hemp nationwide after several decades of being controlled under the Controlled Substances Act. 

The young industry is now under the pressure of catching up with its older counterparts. However, the exigent truth is, there is not enough provision in the United States for hemp testing and disposal of non-compliant crops. 

But as the industry progresses globally and scientific studies to identify and establish its benefits multiplies, advocates are rising, speaking up on the importance of testing. 

At this point, it is becoming clear to all involved parties that hemp testing is a critical part of the equation – for not just the consumers but also the growers.

Battling Testing in the Present-day Hemp Industry

Taking pesticides, a known contaminant, as an instance:

In Colorado, for example, cannabis products (hemp and marijuana) are tested for as low as 13 different pesticides. Whilst in other states like California and Oregon, products are tested for up to 60 different pesticides. 

As a result, it is very possible to have a product pass a pesticide test in Colorado and fail in California. 

This discrepancy has raised incredible confusion for producers, testing laboratories, and consumers trying to sell in other states. 

But the problems don’t stop there, testing officials and regulators contend. 

In the quest to stay within the region’s allowable limits, some businesses shop around for laboratories that will give them the results they want to see. Regulators, meanwhile, are shuttering testing labs for allegedly reporting results that do not match with audits, for whatever reason. 

It is blatantly obvious the industry is in a quagmire of sorts. Meanwhile, there are several other factors in play.

A NUMBER OF FACTORS AT PLAY

Knowing the concentration of the active ingredients as well as contaminant levels is crucial throughout the hemp supply chain. 

Cultivators and retailers alike need to be aware of their yield strength because higher concentrations of CBD usually mean higher prices. While those seeking to use the plant for therapeutic purposes need to be aware of the active ingredients and contaminants levels. 

Thus, labs are tasked with testing samples at every stage of production, making the already lengthy and expensive process even lengthier and more expensive. 

However, with the relative absence of standards on matters like pesticide levels, laboratories have had to develop and validate their methods of measuring the relevant concentrations. Again, with the disparity in laboratory results at top of mind.

According to Alena Rodriguez, managing director of Rm3 Labs in Boulder, Colorado, the variability among testing labs exists even in long-established industries with well-defined standards due to many of these labs operating with their proprietary methods. 

In an interview, Mike Sandoval, President of Sante Laboratories said “regulators don’t have the analytical background to properly understand the requirements a lab should possess to produce quality results.” In his words, “Just because a lab is ISO-17025 accredited doesn’t mean it’s doing a good job.”

Hence, the factors influencing these variabilities are numerous but broadly summarized to range from non-standardization of methods and terminologies to culture of secrecy among testing labs, varying behavior amongst businesses submitting their samples for testing, and lack of homogeneous samples. 

But as stated earlier, this issue goes beyond the testing companies

The entire supply chain is affected and the overall welfare and integrity of hemp industries is at stake. For these reasons, the problem of testing is as crucial an issue as can be. 

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF HEMP

If no one is keeping hemp testing labs in check, then there is no one keeping the growers, transporters, or producers in check. Plus, everyone in the production chain stands a higher risk of taking a significant loss in one way or the other. That said, here are a few reasons why hemp testing should become a standardized and reliable fix in the industry.

Farmers can stay compliant

Growers run the risk of having their hemp crop destroyed if it contains over 0.3% THC. With hemp cultivation, THC spikes just after CBD levels peak, and it is always in the grower’s best interest to let the plant mature as long as possible. This, unfortunately, is risky. 

Testing allows growers to better understand their cultivars’ growing patterns and optimize harvest. 

Even then, currently available tests are still risky, as was the case for Cruise, CEO of Sweetwater Hemp Co. 

He had run his first sample test and returned with results well below the THC threshold. Just ten days after submitting his samples for a second compliance test, which had to be completed 15 days before harvest, his crops went “hot.”

As a cultivator, it always helps to own a testing device that enables rapid, easy, quick testing for THC and other active ingredients. 

Recreating Great Products and Maximizing Profits

Testing is crucial throughout the hemp lifecycle to track potency levels, ensure consumer safety, and optimize harvests. As important  as it is in establishing product integrity, its relevance in recreating products that meet the consumers’ demand and maximize the suppliers’ profits is just as important. 

Below is an overview of the best time to evaluate crops as a grower/producer:

  • Throughout the growing season.
  • Before harvest.
  • During drying.
  • Before selling.

For consumers, testing gives the peace of mind they desire from product purchases. The case of “I didn’t get what I expected” with purchasing hemp products is preventable because consumers will be well-informed.

This also serves suppliers well. With excellently delivered products, tested thoroughly and with care, they can prove their value and establish trust. Products like these prove to consumers that the producer believes in their own products and cares for consumer health. 

Keeping the Consumer Safe and the Industry Virtuous 

Though the world is steadily opening up to the potential in CBD, hemp, and the cannabis industry, there is still a ton of resistance. It will take a mountain of scientific studies, education, and exposure to instill the acceptance of this once-forbidden plant. 

Data from California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control suggest that the more complex the product, the more likely it is to be inaccurately labeled. In 2018, regulators found that 10.6 percent of cannabis flower samples, 20.4 percent of inhalable oils and waxes, and several other related products carried THC estimates that were more than 10 percent different from the actual value.

Separating the legal hemp market from the illicit market begins with testing and standards. As with other consumable products, conscientious consumers want to know what they are putting into their bodies. They need to trust and should be aware of the reviews on lab reports, questions regarding lab integrity, and “pay-to-play” scenarios suggesting the COA may be inaccurate.

AN EASY FIX

Quality assurance and reliability are of top priority in any industry. But, it boils down to trust. 

Hence, to attain a high level of confidence and trust amongst producers and consumers, growers are encouraged to work closely with regulators to understand, improve, and establish the industry standards. 

As a grower, it is also advisable to own a form of testing device that will allow favorable testings on crops for a more structured planting system, yield consistency, and optimized plantings to avoid cases like Cruise’s.

Author: Deborah Agboola, Content Editor at Mariposa Technology

About Mariposa Technology

Putting Power & Profits Into The Farmer’s Hands

At Mariposa Technology, we are developing a revolutionary protocol for rapid, in-field testing of industrial and pharmacological hemp. By utilizing a handheld Raman Spectroscopy device, paired with our proprietary database, we will provide affordable, accurate and immediate test results. Our technology will bring the power of self-testing to farmers at a fraction of the price of traditional laboratory testing while also guaranteeing their digital farming experience optimizes their profits. Moreover, our technology will drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the hemp industry at large.

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