Regulation, Compliance, and Testing

Published: July 20, 2021

The hemp industry offers a wealth of opportunities. But only for those who understand and mitigate consequent challenges.
Mariposa Technology Inc - Testing Hemp Plant
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When the cultivation of hemp finally became legal, the vision of having a bio-alternative to many sectors became a reality. This law, coupled with the establishment of alternative programs, held the potential for a different approach in manufacturing and the safeguard of public health.

With more individuals considering hemp as a multipurpose alternative, regulatory testing and compliance became essential to ensure consumer safety. 

REGULATING A NEW INDUSTRY

Subtitle G of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizes the cultivation of hemp in the United States, as long it is in line with the set conditions. As a result, all 50 states have enacted legislation to establish hemp cultivation and production programs. 

The Farm Bill also exempts derivatives from the coverage of the Controlled Substances Act, provided the parent hemp material complies with the 0.3% THC level. However, the new bill does not change the authority of the FDA, and this was made expressly clear during a congressional hearing. 

According to an FDA official, “FDA’s existing authorities over food, dietary supplements, humans and veterinary drugs, and cosmetics apply to hemp products…” “These safeguards help ensure that Americans have access to safe and accurately labeled hemp products, and, in the case of drugs, that patients can depend on the effectiveness of these products.”

That explains CBD’s prohibition from free use in foods and ingestible items.  

COMPLIANCE IS NOT AS EASY AS PIE

If we go back in time and listen to the early starters, activists, and advocates, we will realize that hemp and cannabis had begun on a more noble foundation. The primary objective, then, was to grow a crop that could positively change the fate of the world, not just line our pockets. 

Sadly, as the movement grew and the industry progressed globally, many have deviated from the original pathway. The gold rush mentality has blinded a vast population to the initial goal, creating opportunities for less-than-stellar businesses to thrive. 

In the agricultural society, we are acutely aware of the impact of residual cultivation chemicals on general health. But these dangers go beyond inaccurate THC levels; since non-compliance with stipulated standards, like chemical levels, not only put the industry’s reputation at risk but the consumers’ health as well. 

However, it is not always the farmer’s fault. Sometimes nature takes its course, and the farmer bears the brunt. Nonetheless, the following instances are common precursors of violation:  

Phytoremediation: Industrial hemp is notably one of the most attractive options for phytoremediation. 

The plants’ ability to extract toxins (such as heavy metals and past agricultural chemicals) from the soil and store them in its leaves and stalks has made it an agricultural and ecological wonder.  

However, this feature is a blessing and a curse; since contaminated plants are imminent threats to public safety. 

As a result, the FDA set standards for heavy metals (especially Cadmium, Arsenic, Lead, and Mercury) and agricultural chemical levels. Also, tests on all hemp/cannabis products for related contaminations were made compulsory.  

Post-harvest mistakes: Poor cultivation practices and inherent traits are not the only ways contaminants get into hemp produce. The cannabis/hemp production chain has many branches and sub-branches, through which products might be liable to contamination. Some of these post-harvest processes include: 

  • Drying and Curing
    The primary objective of this process is to rid the buds of excess moisture for better storage. However, these materials can quickly become suitable breeding grounds for hydrophilic organisms like molds and fungus. The same applies to ‘effective drying and improper storage conditions.
  • Extraction Processes
    Although often due to the use of contaminated plant materials in the first place, extraction processes also have contamination risks.

    Currently, these processes rely on the relationship between variables. As a result, situations like inaccurate analyses and operation errors can occur, resulting in the production of hazardous materials due to persisting residual solvents.
  • Purification Processes
    The production of extracts, isolates, and distillates often include caustic chemicals. So here again, there is the risk of residual chemicals contaminating farm produce, which is bad for consumer health.

    Therefore, to mitigate these intending dangers, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) were formulated to help growers/manufacturers stay compliant and afloat. These guidelines contain the minimum requirements needed by growers to ensure product quality and public safety.  

Climate & Genetics: Although the effect of climate on hemp transmutation is rife with anecdotal evidence and theories, the relationship between hemp mutation and genetics is no question, as validated by many researchers. 

The Bottle-Neck Effect: Per federal rules, hemp plants are to undergo THC testing 30 days before harvest. However, this rule did not make room for one critical factor. There are not enough DEA-certified testing facilities to effectively go round!

With this in view and the tendency of hemp to exceed the legal THC threshold as it matures, farmers need methods that will allow them to monitor THC levels as they await federal approval. 

AVOIDING PITFALLS AND STAYING COMPLIANT

Having covered a few channels through which non-compliance might wiggle through, below are some ways to avoid common pitfalls:

  • Perform environmental soil testing before planting: 
    It ensures the prospective growth soil is free from contaminants and safe for cultivation.
  • Source seeds from reputable or certified sellers: 
    Farmers can consult the relevant federal authorities for hemp varieties eligible for certification. If possible, the COAs (Certificate of Analysis) should be acquired and labels cross-checked. 
  • Test early and Often
    It is advisable to examine plants as early as 5 to 6 weeks, after initial flowering, and as often as every 2-weeks to track cannabinoid levels. 

Frequent testing will not only help in maintaining yield consistency but also in selecting a suitable harvest date based on collated THC potency results. There is also the benefit of detecting malformations earlier than usual. 

Considering the cost of testing and all of the related hazards, having a portable testing device is recommended – not just to save time, but also money. 

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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