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How High Can You Get Off That Pot Brownie? Regulating Marijuana Edibles Keeps Them From Being an Iffy Proposition

Standardized testing could be a game-changer for edibles.

Photo Credit: Edith Rum / Shutterstock.com


From cookies, chocolate and ice cream to gummy bears, soda and trail mix, many U.S. marijuana dispensaries can resemble a THC-filled sweet shop. Marijuana edibles are a popular, sometimes necessary, alternative for patients with serious illnesses or those who simply don’t want to breath smoke. And they generally taste delicious.

But because the U.S. government still considers all things cannabis strictly illegal, there are no universal standards in place for edibles. Throughout the 20 states (and Washington D.C.) that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, there are many different manufacturers working with many different strains and differing rates of quality, so it's difficult to know how high you're going to get from any given edible, and what the effects will be. There are no government regulations, no general labeling standards, and the federal agencies that normally oversee food safety aren’t testing marijuana food products for contaminants like mold, pesticides and foodborne illnesses.

In a recent effort to fill those gaps, the state of Colorado—where pot is state-legal for social as well as medical use—recently added requirements to test for food contaminants in edibles, in addition to potency. The state's Marijuana Enforcement Division enacted the new regulations in early March  but testing has yet to be fully implemented, and according to an article in the Denver Post titled “With No Standard for Testing, Buyers Can't Trust Items' Potency,” many “labels” are inaccurate.

ThePost organized independent tests of THC levels for various treats within pot shops in the city, and the results were not promising. The Post reported, for example, that products from Dr. J’s Hash Infusion, one of the largest producers of marijuana-infused edibles in the state, only contained a “minute fraction” of the THC promised by its labels.

Once standardized testing labs are in place, it could change the game for edibles, which have been a media hot topic in recent months due to (usually overblown) fears surrounding dosage and food safety. In an article about Colorado's new regulations, Lewis Koski, chief of the marijuana enforcement division told Salon that to a “large extent” the state is learning as it goes.

“The right thing to do, from a regulatory standpoint, is to make sure we can comprehensively regulate all these businesses and ensure the health and welfare of the citizens of Colorado,” he said.

So far, throughout most of the 20 states (plus D.C.) that allow medical marijuana, if any testing is happening, it’s happening via independent, privately owned labs. Dispensaries retain the option to opt in and order lab tests—or not.

The First Testing Arrived by Patient Demand

It wasn’t until six years ago that the first-ever cannabis testing lab in the nation opened its doors, not in Colorado but in Oakland, California—a state where hundreds of hodgepodge of medical dispensaries still lack any state-standardized operational guidelines. That lab was Steep Hill Halent, and still offers cannabis testing services.

In the last six years, scores of testing labs have popped up across the Golden State. Alec Dixon of Santa Cruz, California, partnered with the original laboratory director of Steep Hill to open up his own testing facility, SC Labs, four years ago. Dixon is a navy veteran and became an outdoor organic cannabis farmer in Mendocino County when he moved to California years ago. The father of his girlfriend-at-the-time was cannabis activist and organic grower Tim Blake.

“So that started my whole thing in this whole world,” he said. Now, Dixon’s labs test about 5,000 cannabis samples a month for everything from microbes and pesticides to potency and cannabinoid profiling—which means actually mapping out the sometimes hundreds of different compounds that make up a single cannabis plant. SC Labs also does consulting for companies that make infused cannabis products.