Kelly O'Connor
Soapbox

Dishonest Potency Testing In Oregon Remains A Problem

By Kelly O’Connor
8 Comments
Kelly O'Connor

In this op-ed, Kelly O’Connor says nefarious lab practices are still wreaking havoc on the Oregon market.

Oregon, we have a problem.

Anyone with a search engine can piece together how much THC certain strains produce and what their characteristics are. Oh wait- there’s an app for that… or dozens, I lose count these days.

Nefarious lab results are rampant in our communityLet’s take one of my favorites, Dutch Treat; relaxing, piney and sweet with a standard production of 18-25% THC, according to three different reviews online. So, did I raise an eyebrow when I saw Dutch Treat on Oregon shelves labeled at 30% THC? Did I take it in to an independent, accredited lab and have it tested for accuracy? You bet your inflated potency results I did! The results? Disappointing.

Nefarious lab results are rampant in our community; it is hurting every participant in our industry affected by the trade, commerce and consumption of recreational cannabis.

“I have had labs ask me what I want my potency numbers to look like and make an offer,” says David Todd, owner and operations manager of Glasco Farms, a craft cannabis producer in central Oregon. “It’s insane- I want to stand behind my product and show through scientific fact that I produce a superior flower.”

But without enforcement of lab practice standards, producers are being pressured to play dirty. In her third year cultivating at a two-tier recreational cannabis farm, a producer who wished to remain anonymous sent me an email about the pressures she is up against to produce high THC strains:

“The only sure way to get my product on the shelf at a profitable price is with THC 25% or above. Not a lot of strains have that potential, but the market has plenty with 28% to 32% floating around so I have to go with the same labs as the rest of the independent farmers to get the best numbers I can. The lab I use … return(s) good numbers.”

Those “good numbers,” aka high THC %, are the driving force of sales. A strain tests at 20% THC and it sells for $1,000/lb. Then it tests at 25% THC, and sells for $1300/lb. You produce cannabis for sale- this is your business. And labs are telling you that they can manipulate samples and reports to make you more money. Everyone else is doing it. If you don’t, your product isn’t “good enough” to sell. What do you do?Labs should operate ethically.

It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by lies, lack of enforcement resources, coercion and undereducation. We are all responsible. Yet, ask who the source of the problem is and everyone points fingers across the circle.

The consumers are uneducated about cannabis and only focus on THC. The dispensaries and budtenders should be educating them. Producers should take a stand and use an honest lab. Labs should operate ethically.

I repeat: Oregon, we have a problem.

It’s time to stop living in a land where Dutch Treat is hitting 30% THC. It’s time for everyone to demand auditing and ethics.

Laws have been set forth on how to sample, prep, test and report analyses for cannabis to ensure fair commerce, consumer health and public safety. But there’s a clear need to blind test the different labs, and for unbiased, third-party research and development.

As federal eyes turn to the Oregon to investigate black market activity, regulatory bodies are tightening their grip on licensees to maintain legal validity and avoid shut down.

The time to demand change and integrity is now.The crack-down began on August 23, 2018, when the OLCC investigated several prominent producers’ practices. Black market distribution incurred the harshest penalty; the OLCC revoked their wholesale license due to multiple violations.

“We want good compliant, law-abiding partners as OLCC marijuana licensees,” says Paul Rosenbaum, OLCC Commission Chair. “We know the cannabis industry is watching what we’re doing, and believe me, we’ve taken notice. We’re going to find a way to strengthen our action against rule breakers, using what we already have on the books, and if need be working with the legislature to tighten things up further.”

Trends in METRC data lay the foundation for truth, and it’s time to put it to use. “The Cannabis Tracking System worked as it should enabling us to uncover this suspicious activity,” says Steven Marks, OLCC Executive Director. “When we detect possible illegal activity, we need to take immediate steps …”

Potency fraud might not be at the top of the list for investigation, but labs and producers are breaking the law, and there will be consequences. ORELAP and OLCC have the right to investigate and revoke licenses of labs that are falsifying data and consumers can file claims with the Department of Justice.

The time to demand change and integrity is now.

Comments

  1. Annabeth Rose

    Why are you so confident that it’s the labs that are operating unethically and not the producers? While I do not deny that there are some bad actors in the Oregon lab market, it is also becoming a very common, and well known, practice to preform an added boost to finished product to max the thc content. Specifically, according to the rules hash sprinkled on top of flower is still a finished cannabis flower product. It is the labs responsibility to test the product that is sampled, we are not the police of the industry to investigate what the producers do with the product prior to taking to the lab for testing.

    1. Kelly O'Connor

      Thank you Annabeth, for your reply.
      I will not discredit your claim that producers can/do boost their own potency numbers, although I have less professional experience with these methods.
      While your claim may be valid, it does not discredit the claim that Cannabis-Testing Labs are producing inconsistent/ inaccurate results- particularly for potency analysis.
      Lab-shopping based on highest potency results is the norm in Oregon…send product to 5 different labs and the one with the highest potency results gets the business for compliance analytics.
      Of course, there will be variances based on the quality of the self-submitted samples. But this practice is common knowledge, and in a market of extreme competition and overproduction, cannabis testing labs are offering higher numbers for more/any business. Point blank.
      Is every lab doing this? Certainly not. But many are, and consequences for this unethical practice are very real, as we have seen in Washington and California. Oregon is just catching up.

    2. Oregon Grower

      It is however the lab’s job to note discrepancies in the product type and to stand behind their results. “We don’t care because everyone does it” is not a viable outlook to have when in such an impactful position as lab director.

      1. Annabeth Rose

        I did not say that we do not care. In fact, it is the labs job to not discrepancies which is why we note any discrepancies we observe on the CoC and also report them to OLCC. I said it is not in our responsibility to investigate any further, as we have been advised by OLCC to do exactly what I stated.

  2. E.B.

    Having tested for MJ dispensaries in the past, I have experienced the fallacy of exaggerated potency numbers. In my opinion, it should start with the grower who insures that the cultivated plant strain is what it is. The accreditation lab is the independent indicator for the potency. The author is just pointing out the unethical practices of some labs that are in collusion with the unscrupulous cultivator who wants to misrepresent the product to the public. Just like any former vice product that has become legal (i.e. alcohol), corruption is bound to follow.

  3. Jim

    My question , is THC content exactly the same throughout a 15 lb batch? Is THC percentage exactly the same after 7 days on the shelf? Or 30 days later? All my research says THC testing can vary from lab to lab by as much as 15%. Isn’t THC percentage a changing thing due in part as to how it is stored, or its dry weight? Is it true that we don’t really know what high THC does, mostly when you consider tepeins and we don’t really know what they do exactly.
    Why do we have to label out flower with THC content when it is not what a labe says it is anyway. Maybe it should be reported as a range, say 15 to 20% or 20 to 28%? This is something the labs should be recommending to OLCC. The labs should be helping the industry lobby OLCC to get us all over this “ THC stigma” .

  4. Trent

    This is a very good article. The way testing is setup, it is very easy to cheat. It basically makes testing pointless when the grower presents the product to be tested, and decides what goes to the store under that test result.

  5. Richard Kanner

    If you ask me the economics of the testing market place is really goofy to begin with. You can get a analysis run using HPLC for $50 (quick google search). How is this possible? Think about it like this. If you take a sample log it in, weight it, prepare, and run it with a standard on an HPLC, print a report, and send it to the client and bill and collect, and you do all of this in 2 man hours. You are making $25/man hour or about $50K/year. Better off being a plumber. Or just print out a report and give the client what they want. No solvent waste, HPLC maintenance, no standards consumed. How many labs, issue a full report, outlining their methods a with standard curves and HPLC peaks printing and date time stamped in their, with a quality review and analyst signature. Don’t expect quality results if your not going to pay for it.

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