Missouri Cannabis regulators target ‘lab shopping’ in new rules
Marijuana testing labs face pressure to say products have higher THC potency results or lose business.
DHSS’ new rule aims to prevent the practice.
In the marijuana industry, they say potency is king.
Producers all over the country are competing to put the most intoxicating product on the shelves. And that can leave the labs who test these products in a tough spot.
At least, that’s been the case in California and other states where marijuana is legal, said Josh Swider, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in San Diego — and Missouri should take note.
Back in 2020, Swider started getting calls from marijuana producers asking him if he could guarantee a 20mg THC test result if they sent him a sample.
As an “honest lab,” he told them he couldn’t.
“The next year it went up to 25,” he said. “The year after that it went to 30. Now it’s up 30-plus guaranteed no matter what. You can never report less than that, or ‘I will pull my business.’ That is the exact conversations I have with the producers.”
For the past four years, Swider, who is also vice chair of the cannabis working group for American Council of Independent Laboratories, has been collaborating with cannabis scientists nationwide to publish a guide of testing best practices and to help address the issue of “lab shopping.”
One key suggestion, Swider said, is interlaboratory comparison.
“It’s something that is 100% needed,” he said. “Interlab comparison shows you if there’s flaws in the system.”
Missouri is joining the few states that have implemented an extra layer of “round robin” testing or auditing of marijuana products. It means that the state regulating agency — the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services — can now instruct the state’s certified testing labs to double check each other’s work.
Up to 10 times a year, the state will instruct the licensed testing labs to pick up marijuana samples from another lab and perform a test. Then the state will review all the results to make sure they have similar results in THC potency — and that one lab isn’t passing a marijuana sample for pesticide residue while another one is failing it.
But this spring, Missouri’s testing labs owners united in opposition against this rule, saying it is duplicative of the current testing requirements, too vague and “unduly burdensome.”
“We do not claim that it is impossible to design an effective interlab comparison program, only that the approach outlined in this provision will surely fail,” stated Andrew Mullins, executive director of the Missouri Cannabis Trade Association in a May 6 letter to legislators.
When Missouri voters approved recreational marijuana in November, it meant the department had to issue a new set of rules to implement the constitution amendment. The interlaboratory comparison rule is a small piece of the 127 pages of new cannabis guidelines, that include everything from packaging to event organizing.
Those rules went into effect on July 30.
The department first introduced these rules in January, and they went through a public comment phase before making their way through their final hurdle — the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
During a May 8 committee meeting, Amy Moore, director of the state’s division of cannabis regulation, explained why the new testing rule is “critical.”
“The challenges in regulating and relying on for-profit cannabis testing labs,” Moore said, “is one of the most discussed challenges in the national cannabis regulatory community.”
No standard testing method
Testing is among the many areas — like cannabis banking or labeling — where states’ regulation is hampered by the fact that marijuana is federally illegal.
In industries like food, the federal government sets the standard for testing. But for marijuana products, there’s no federal regulation over marijuana at all because it’s still considered an illegal substance.
Naturally, when labs are using different testing methods, they’re going to get varying testing results on pesticide levels and THC potency, cannabis lab experts say.
And that leaves state regulating agencies in a difficult position because they don’t have the necessary “boots on the ground” it takes to develop testing standards, said Kim Stuck, CEO of the cannabis and psychedelics compliance firm Allay Consulting.
“It is something that has been an issue in the industry from the beginning,” said Stuck, who previously served as an investigator for Colorado’s regulating agency. “I haven’t seen any state really make sure that those testing labs are getting the results they’re supposed to be getting, not yet at least. But there is a lot of talk about it.”
California is currently attempting to mandate a standard testing method — an effort that’s been in the works since 2021 — and the roll out is being highly watched by the cannabis industry nationwide.