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CBD Safety in Edibles: What Regulators are Thinking

By Steven Gendel, Ph.D.
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Despite the popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) infused edibles among consumers there are storm clouds on the horizon for this market. The potential threat stems from continuing uncertainty about the regulatory status of CBD in the United States (US) and the European Union (EU). Recent statements by government agencies in both areas are reminders that regulators could make decisions or take actions that would suddenly end the viability of this market. Any company that sells, or is planning to sell, CBD infused edibles such as bakery items, candy and beverages needs to understand what the regulators are thinking now and what might happen in the future.

in the US, the 2018 Farm Bill created a category of products called hemp that are derived from the Cannabis sativaplant and contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This law also explicitly confirmed the authority of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the safety of hemp-derived infused edibles. This means CBD needs to navigate the New Dietary Ingredient pathway for dietary supplements, and either the food additive petition process or the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) pathway for foods before it can be used as an ingredient in a food. All three of these processes require that someone (an individual, a company or a group) acting as a petitioner or notifier must submit safety data to the agency or arrange for a safety evaluation by independent experts.

Just some of the many hemp-derived CBD products on the market today

In the EU, CBD is regulated as a Novel Food in a process that is triggered by a submission to the European Commission. The submission must include safety data that is evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In England and Scotland, CBD products are also novel foods and are evaluated using a process like that in the EU. As in the US, it is the responsibility of an applicant to provide the safety data.

The standard used by the FDA to judge the safety of new food substances in all three pathways is that there should be a “reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the conditions of its intended use.” The standard used by EFSA for novel foods is, “the food does not, on the basis of the scientific evidence available, pose a safety risk to human health.”

It is important to realize that both in the US and the EU the safety standard for evaluating new food substances only considers the safety of that substance. The laws or regulations that define agency authority do not allow for consideration of any potential benefits. Approval (or rejection) must be based solely on the safety of the substance. Further, safety is evaluated in the context of the intended use of the substance, the planned level of use and the resulting consumer exposure to that substance.

What do we know about FDA’s and EFSA’s current thinking about CBD safety? 

Unfortunately, both the FDA and EFSA have made it abundantly clear that they believe the available scientific data does not meet the required safety standards. FDA has issued multiple warning letters to companies that sell CBD products and has rejected two NDI notifications for CBD. Although these actions were primarily based on non-safety issues (illegal health claims and the drug exclusion provision in the FD&C Act, respectively), in each case the FDA also raised safety concerns. This was done by saying that the agency is not aware of any data that would support a GRAS determination or that the products raise “concerns about the adequacy of the safety evidence.” This doubt echoes statements from the agency in public meetings and advisories. These doubts were expressed as recently as June 2022 during a meeting of the FDA Science Advisory Board.

Similarly, EFSA has stated that they feel that there are critical gaps in the existing CBD safety data. In April 2022, they published a statement with a detailed analysis of the relevant scientific literature and explicitly identified critical data gaps. EFSA said that these data gaps prevented them from evaluating CBD as a novel food.

What do the regulators see as data gaps?

Although the details of each of the data gaps are technically complex, for both the FDA and EFSA they fall into few broad categories.

FDAlogoThe first is that the agencies feel that they need better information on how CBD behaves in the human body. This is described as understanding the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADMA) of CBD. The agencies also would like to see data on whether repeated use of CBD might cause damage to specific organs that does not occur from single exposures.

The second need is for more data related to the negative effects that have been observed in some previous work. This includes effects on the liver and reproductive system.  In particular, the agencies would like to know whether it is possible to identify a level of exposure that is low enough to not cause any negative effects. This is termed the No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL). In an ingredient safety assessment, the NOAEL is used to establish a safe intake level, called the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). Comparing the ADI to the expected exposure for the intended use allows the regulators to assess overall safety for a substance.  If the expected exposure is below the ADI, the substance is considered safe. Both agencies feel that the existing data do not allow them to identify a NOAEL for CBD.

The third data need relates to the composition of the CBD products used in safety studies. Food safety determinations are based on the total composition of an ingredient that is produced using a fully defined process. Even if the potential ingredient is 95% or 99% pure, a safety evaluation needs to know what is in that other 5% or 1%, and that this is the same from batch to batch. For example, the presence or absence of residual processing chemicals (such as extraction solvents) and the nature and concentration of substances such as other cannabinoids and terpenes will differ between manufacturers and processes. These differences could affect the overall safety profile for each CBD product. Therefore, it is considered important that studies supporting a safety determination for a new substance be carried out with the actual article of commerce.

Unfortunately, many different CBD preparations have been used in past studies, and in most cases these preparations were poorly characterized. This makes it difficult or impossible to combine the safety data obtained using one product with data obtained with a different product. For example, data obtained using CBD isolates from two different sources cannot be combined unless it can be shown that they were made using the same process and have the same overall composition.

What does this mean for the future?

Neither the FDA nor EFSA is likely to take any positive action on CBD until they receive safety data that fill the gaps that they have identified.

Given these data problems, it is likely that there will be little or no movement on regulatory approvals for CBD in edibles (or dietary supplements in the US) for at least several years. In the US, these products will remain in legal limbo, with state regulations playing the leading role in determining what is allowed on the market. Products with health claims will continue to be particularly vulnerable to FDA action.  The situation in the EU will be at least as confusing because, in the absence of action from EFSA, the regulatory and market status of CBD edibles will be determined by each member country independently.

In view of this uncertainty and business confusion, that are three ways that companies making CBD and CBD edibles can respond. First, in the short term, they can develop and implement manufacturing processes that ensure that their products are consistent from batch to batch and that they have the intended dose of CBD per serving or per product unit. This includes working with the analytical community and organizations such as AOAC and ASTM to ensure that there are validated testing methods available for the CBD and for the final edible products.

In the medium term, business risk management plans for companies that make CBD and CBD infused edibles should consider the possibility that new scientific data will push food safety authorities to actively conclude the CBD does not meet the current regulatory safety standards. In that case, the regulators might start to act against all CBD-containing products.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

Businesses should also be aware that the agencies could make a positive safety determination but that they would use the available data to establish a low maximum allowed dose per serving or set very low limits on the presence of specific contaminants such as other cannabinoids.

In the longer term, the CBD industry as a whole might consider advocating for legislative changes. The best statutory fix is likely to be one that that regulates all cannabis-derived products in a system or agency that is separate from the food safety system. This approach is being used in Canada under the Cannabis Act. It is also similar to the way that alcoholic beverages are regulated in the US. This approach, if appropriately designed, could avoid the need for safety determinations but might also limit market access. While this approach could bring clarity and certainty to the market, it is important to remember that it will take time and effort to create a functionally system under this scenario.

There are many market reports that forecast on-going high rates of growth for the CBD market.  However, the regulatory and scientific developments that are likely to occur of the next couple of years will determine whether those projections can become reality.

Companies making these products need to monitor changes and prepare to respond to either positive or negative events.

These companies should also remember that edible products are mostly made from food ingredients using standard food product processes. It is critical that these products be made under a system that prevents food-borne hazards.

CDPHE Certifies More Labs for Hemp Testing

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Aurum Labs, a cannabis testing laboratory based in Durango, Colorado, announced last week that they have become certified by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for all of the compliance testing required for hemp products. The press release says they are the first independent lab that is actually based in the state to receive the CDPHE certification for every compliance test.

Last year, Colorado rolled out hemp testing regulations that are some of the most comprehensive in the world. The required pesticide screening includes testing for more than 100 different types of pesticides. The new rules, along with the certification requirement, make it difficult for labs to enter the market, with only eleven total labs certified by the CDPHE for various hemp compliance panels and only five certified for every type of test, according to the department’s website.

Most of the companies on that list certified to conduct hemp compliance testing are familiar labs with large footprints, such as Eurofins, Kaycha Labs, Columbia Labs, SC Labs, InfiniteCAL and ACS Labs. Most of these labs are out of state and by the looks of it, only four independent, Colorado-based labs are certified so far: Aurum Labs, Gobi Analytical, Botanacor Labs and Minova Labs. Gobi and Minova, however, are not yet certified for pesticide testing, while Aurum appears to be certified for all compliance testing. Botanacor Labs, based in Denver, was certified back in June of 2021 to every compliance test except for pesticides.

“It’s difficult to compete with these large, private-equity-funded labs, but Aurum is passionate about serving the evolving hemp industry” Liz Mason, director of operations at Aurum Labs, said in a press release. “We are committed to staying on the scientific forefront to give the most comprehensive services to our clients.”

New York Adds More Conditional Cultivation Licenses

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Regulators in New York are continuing their push forward in launching the adult use cannabis market. They have approved 58 conditional licenses for hemp growers to begin cultivating cannabis for the adult use market. In just the past few months, the state has already awarded 146 conditional licenses for cultivation.

The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) in New York also announced their “Get Ready, Get Set” virtual workshop series, designed to help social equity applicants prepare for license applications and better understand the conditional licensing program.

Earlier this year, following an amendment to state law, the OCM launched the conditional licensing program to ensure that hemp farmers in the state with a desire to grow adult use cannabis could get started in the 2022 season.

Applications can be filed with the OCM for conditional licenses through June 30, 2022, with a $2,000 non-refundable application and licensing fee. The licenses are only for farms that have already grown hemp in New York State.

“New York is building the most inclusive cannabis industry in the country and including small farmers with an expertise is an essential component in accomplishing that goal,” says Chris Alexander, executive director at the OCM. “The growing season isn’t waiting for anyone and I’m grateful for the hard work of the CCB and my colleagues at OCM to ensure these licenses are being reviewed as quickly as possible so New York’s farmers can take full advantage of the growing season and cultivate the products that our equity entrepreneurs will be the first to sell when they open their dispensaries this year.”

AOAC Launches Cannabis Proficiency Testing Program

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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In a press release published this week, AOAC International announced it has partnered with Signature Science, LLC as the test material provider for the new AOAC Cannabis/Hemp Proficiency Testing program. What makes this proficiency testing (PT) program so unique is that AOAC will be the only PT provider to offer actual cannabis flower as the matrix.

This month, the pilot round with twenty cannabis testing labs begins with hemp-only samples being shipped in early May. The first live round of the PT program is scheduled for November of this year and will offer participating labs the choice of cannabis flower samples or hemp samples.

The program will include one sample for cannabinoid and terpene profiles, moisture and heavy metals, as well as a second sample for pesticide residue testing. According to the press release, mycotoxins will be added to the mix soon.

The new PT program was developed by stakeholders involved with the AOAC Cannabis Analytical Science Program (CASP), including state regulatory labs, industry labs, state and federal agencies and accreditation bodies. Shane Flynn, senior director of AOAC’s PT program, says the program is a result of scientists coming to them with concerns about testing in the cannabis space. “AOAC has a long history of bringing scientists together to address emerging topics, so when stakeholders came to AOAC with their concerns and need for quality proficiency testing in the cannabis industry, AOAC acted,” says Flynn. “Stakeholders noted the analytical differences in testing cannabis versus hemp and had specific concerns around it and asked for a program that would provide actual cannabis samples in addition to hemp. This is truly a program that was created by the stakeholders, for the stakeholders.”

AOAC says they plan on introducing microbiology to the PT program, with microbial contamination tests in both cannabis and hemp samples. They are also considering adding additional matrices, like chocolate and gummies.

Signature Science is an ISO 17043 accredited proficiency test provider that also has a DEA-licensed controlled substances lab, making them an ideal candidate to partner with AOAC for the PT Program. They entered into a 3-year MoU with AOAC for the program. Their team developed and validated methods used to create the samples for the PT program at their DEA-licensed lab in Austin, Texas.

Milan Patel, PathogenDx
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The Need for More Stringent Testing in Cannabis

By Milan Patel
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Milan Patel, PathogenDx

As the demand for legal cannabis continues to rise and more states come online, it is imperative to enact more rigorous and comprehensive testing solutions to protect the health of consumers. People use cannabis products for wellness and to find relief; they should not be susceptible to consuming pathogens and falling ill. Especially for immunocompromised consumers, the consequences of consuming contaminated cannabis or hemp are dire. Of course, there should be federal standards for pathogen testing requirements like we have for the food industry. But right now, as cannabis is not yet federally legal, testing regulations vary between states and in many states, testing requirements are too loose and enforcement is minimal. It is up to state legislators, regulators and cannabis operators to protect the health of consumers through implementing more stringent testing.

From the outset, the environmental elements needed to grow cannabis – heat, light, humidity, soil – make cannabis ripe for pathogens to proliferate. Even when growers follow strict sanitation procedures through the supply chain from seed to sale, contaminations can still occur. Cannabis companies need to be hypervigilant and proactive about testing, not just reactive. The lack of regulations in some states is alarming, and as the cannabis industry is highly competitive and so many companies have emerged in a short time, there are unfortunately unscrupulous actors that have skated by in a loose regulatory landscape, just in the game to make a quick buck, even at the expense of consumer health. And there are notable instances where states do not have enforcement in place to deter harmful manufacturing practices. For instance, there are some states that don’t mandate moisture control and there have been incidents of companies watering down flower so it has more weight and thus can be sold at a higher cost – all the while that added moisture leads to mold, harming the consumer. This vicious circle driven by selfish human behavior needs to be broken by stricter regulations and enforcement.

While in the short term, looser testing regulations may save companies some money, in the long run these regulatory environments carry significant economic repercussions and damage the industry at large, most importantly injury or death to customers and patients. Recalls can tarnish a company’s brand and reputation and cause sales and stock prices to tank, and since cannabis legalization is such a hotly contested issue, the media gloms onto these recalls, which opponents to legalization then leverage to justify their stance. In order to win the hearts and minds of opponents and bring about federal legalization sooner, we need safer products so cannabis won’t be cast in such a dangerous, risky light.

Certainly, there’s a bit of irony at play here – the lack of federal regulations heightens the risk of contaminated cannabis reaching consumers, and on the flip side recalls are used by opponents to justify stigmatizing the plant and keeping it illegal. Nevertheless, someday in the not-too-distant future, cannabis will be legalized at the federal level. And when that day happens, federal agents will aggressively test and regulate cannabis; they’ll swab every area in facilities and demand thorough records of testing up and down the supply chain; current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) will be mandated. No longer will violations result just in a slap on the wrist – businesses will be shut down. To avoid a massive shock to the system, it makes sense for cannabis companies to pivot and adopt rigorous and wide-sweeping testing procedures today. Wait for federal legalization, and you’ll sink.

Frankly, the current landscape of cannabis regulation is scary and the consequences are largely yet to be seen. Just a few months ago, a Michigan state judge reversed part of a recall issued by the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) on cannabis that exceeded legal limits of yeast, mold and aspergillus, bringing contaminated cannabis back to shelves without even slapping a warning label on the packaging to inform consumers of the potential contamination. This is a classic case of the power of the dollar prevailing over consumer safety and health. Even in well-established markets, the lack of regulations is jarring. For example, before this year in Colorado, testing for aspergillus wasn’t even required. (Aspergillus inhalation, which can cause Aspergillosis, can be deadly, especially for people who are immunocompromised). Many states still allow trace amounts of aspergillus and other pathogens to be present in cannabis samples. While traces may seem inconsequential in the short term, what will happen to frequent consumers who have been pinging their lungs with traces of pathogens for 30 years? Consistently inhaling trace amounts of pathogens can lead to lung issues and pulmonary disease down the road. Look what happened to people with breathing and lung issues during the last two years with COVID. What’s going to happen to these people when the next pandemic hits?

We need state regulators and MSOs to step up and implement more aggressive testing procedures. These regulators and companies can create a sea of change in the industry to better protect the health and well-being of consumers. Just complying with loose regulations isn’t good enough. We need to bring shortcomings around testing into the limelight and demand better and more efficient regulatory frameworks. And we should adopt the same standards for medical and adult use markets. Right now, several states follow cGMP for medical but not adult use – that’s ridiculous. Potentially harming consumers goes against what activists seeking legalization have been fighting for. Cannabis, untainted, provides therapeutic and clinical value not just to medical patients but to all consumers; cannabis companies should promote consumer health through their products, not jeopardize it.

For best practices, companies should conduct tests at every step in the supply chain, not just test end products. And testing solutions should be comprehensive. Most of the common tests used today are based on petri dishes, an archaic and inefficient technology dating back over a century, which require a separate dish to test for each pathogen of interest. If you’re waiting three to five days to see testing results against fifteen pathogens and a pathogen happens to be present, by the time you see results, the pathogen could have spread and destroyed half of your crops. So, not only do petri dishes overburden state-run labs, but due to their inherent inefficiencies, relying on these tests can significantly eat into cannabis companies’ revenues. At PathogenDx, we’ve created multiplexing solutions that can identify and detect up to 50 pathogens in a single test and yield accurate results in six hours. To save cannabis companies money in the long run and to make sure pathogens don’t slip through the cracks, more multiplexing tests like the ones we’ve created should be implemented in state labs.

Right now, while the regulatory landscape is falling short in terms of protecting consumer health, better solutions already exist. I urge state regulators and cannabis companies to take testing very seriously, be proactive and invest in creating better testing infrastructure today. Together, we can protect the health of consumers and create a stronger, more trustworthy and prosperous cannabis industry.

Sports Sponsorships in Cannabis: The Long Legal Road Ahead

By Airina Rodrigues
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If legal cannabis isn’t already a key facet of American culture, it is well on its way. The multibillion-dollar industry is already ubiquitous in politics, and consumers are increasingly seeing various types of marketing from cannabis brands, from billboards to magazine ads to organic content on social media. It may not be long before sports fans see more of their favorite athletes talking up CBD products for pain management or even see a dispensary chain claim naming rights for a stadium.

The next big marketing frontier for cannabis brands is professional sports sponsorships. And in some respects, it makes sense that athletes might be natural brand ambassadors for an industry focused on pain management and mental health relief. But there are obstacles unique to the highly regulated cannabis market that, paired with the already legality-heavy proposition of sponsorship deals, mean a long road ahead. Here are some key considerations for cannabis and CBD brands looking to a future of sports sponsorships.

The Current Climate

Many leagues have already embraced sponsorship deals with CBD brands, from NASCAR to the United Soccer League. The four pillar sports in the U.S.—the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball—have already relaxed their rules and testing protocols related to athletes and cannabis. In 2019, the NFL reached an agreement with the players’ union to study the pain management benefits of cannabis and in 2020, the NFL announced players will no longer be suspended for positive tests and increased the threshold of allowable THC for positive tests. And stars like powerhouse tight-end Rob Gronkowski and former Denver Nuggets Al Harrington in retirement have attached their names to cannabis and CBD brands.

After dismal profits through the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Big Four” sports leagues may want to consider opening an entirely new sponsorship category via cannabis and CBD. Additional pressure might come from athletes themselves, who want alternative treatments for pain and anxiety. As the public looked in from the outside as the MLB negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement and as leagues renegotiate CBAs generally, player pressure could continue to move the needle on league acceptance of cannabis products.

If sports leagues are expecting to allow cannabis sponsorships in the future, they are likely waiting for federal approval for cannabis

As much as this means less stigma for cannabis, it also illustrates the constant fragmentation that makes it difficult for cannabis businesses to operate like other companies. While the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB have all eased up on players’ use of the substance, they haven’t embraced CBD sponsorships the same way other leagues have and currently won’t allow their athletes to seek CBD or cannabis sponsorship deals as individuals. Piecemeal state legalization, strict advertising rules, enduring federal prohibitions and a lack of FDA approval are the biggest barriers specific to the cannabis industry. And, while the “Big Four” leagues are not signatories to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code, applying their own anti-doping policies, don’t look for cannabis sponsorships or endorsements of Olympic sports or athletes any time soon—WADA prohibits in-competition use of cannabis, although it is conducting a scientific review of the status of cannabis in 2022, indicating a softening may be forthcoming.

Paired with the issues typical to sport sponsorships generally, cannabis companies have much more to consider when seeking sponsorship deals.

Threshold Sports Sponsorships Considerations Relating to Cannabis and CBD 

As a threshold matter, if sports leagues are expecting to allow cannabis sponsorships in the future, they are likely waiting for federal approval for cannabis and specifically, FDA approval for CBD products. The agency decided not to allow companies to market full-spectrum CBD as a dietary supplement in August, and formal guidelines may be years away as medical and scientific data materialize either supporting or negating the health claims. In the meantime, companies and their spokespeople cannot claim certain health benefits in advertising without FDA approval.

Cannabis itself is also still a schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act and has historically been listed among most leagues’ anti-doping bans, although as discussed above, it appears attitudes might be beginning to shift. Even in states where adult use and medical cannabis are legal, taxes are high and advertising rules are incredibly strict. They also vary from market to market. When Connecticut legalized cannabis in 2021, state Attorney General William Tong moved to have all billboards advertising Massachusetts dispensaries removed for violating the state’s cannabis marketing restrictions. With a web of intersecting, and at times conflicting, state regulations at play, national marketing campaigns are highly challenging. The crisscrossing markets on game days and the national exposure of most athletes in the Big Four leagues will likely implicate multiple jurisdictions, and multiple sets of advertising regulations that don’t always mesh. And, even if a policy decision were made to allow some territory-restricted sponsorship deals in the cannabis space, it’s unclear if and how cannabis sponsors could exercise even local broadcasting rights—a key value driver for any sponsorship deal.

Specific Sponsorship Considerations Relating to Cannabis and CBD

In addition to the above, the host of legal and business issues generally applicable to sports sponsorships deals will likely take on a different flavor with respect to cannabis and CBD.

From a commercial perspective, one of the key issues in any sponsorship deal is whether a sponsor will receive exclusive rights in a category. It’s important that sponsors take a critical eye to how a league may have “sliced and diced” that category. For example, a would-be cannabis sponsor may not be expecting a competitor to take up rights in the CBD space. But without close attention to how the sponsorship category is defined, any oversight here could lead to sharing branding space with unwelcome neighbors.

One of the key issues in any sponsorship deal is whether a sponsor will receive exclusive rights in a category.

In highly regulated industry categories such as gambling/casino and sports betting, league policies mandate strict compliance obligations on the part of the sponsor. We should expect to see a similar approach if leagues approve cannabis sponsorships. For example, in gaming and sports betting, league requirements often demand that sponsors notify the team or league of any compliance issues—no matter how nonmaterial, and no matter if they affect any rights or activities in the sponsorship territory. If there are compliance violations, leagues and teams typically demand immediate termination rights. The compliance and disclosure obligations for a highly regulated sponsor can be onerous, and sponsors risk losing their sponsorship investment even for trivial issues that do not bear on the sponsorship. For example, should a minor casino compliance violation in Las Vegas result in termination of a sponsorship deal in New York? Similarly, if a dispensary in Seattle operating under an interstate brand receives a de minimus fine for an inadvertent sale to a minor, should that result in termination of that brand’s sponsorship deal in Colorado? While these types of compliance and termination provisions are typically negotiable to something approximating fairness, look for leagues to take a hard-line stance on compliance issues, and expect that some teams may mandate deal terms that are take it or leave it.

Similarly, leagues and teams often demand strict morals provisions allowing them to terminate if they determine, in their sole discretion, that the sponsor or its activities might cause reputational harm to the team. Although cannabis is rapidly destigmatizing, one might argue that the industry is at least historically aligned with illegality and perhaps inherently aligned with other “sin” industries like gambling, alcohol and tobacco. Teams and leagues know what they are getting into when they accept sponsorship money from these industries, and cannabis sponsors should demand that any such “morals” provisions be exercised by teams only reasonably, in good faith, and with an opportunity for the sponsor to cure any alleged issues.

Further, just like gaming and sports betting operators, cannabis businesses are restricted from marketing to minors. While state laws are a hodge-podge, sales to individuals under the age of 21 are generally prohibited, and cannabis businesses are also generally restricted from marketing to individuals under the age of 21, or even from publishing marketing materials that appeal to children—a subjective standard. These rules, of course, are likely to restrict the type of signage and activation that can occur in stadia. It also poses issues from a digital marketing and data-sharing perspective. Sponsors and teams often negotiate specific activations via social media, websites and email marketing lists. But the parties must keep in mind compliance issues regarding these activations, including taking care to scrub relevant marketing databases of users under the age of 21 and, possibly, “self-excluded” individuals. The gaming industry is familiar with self-exclusion sign-ups, which permit individuals to opt out of relevant marketing and be disallowed from entering gaming establishments. The cannabis industry may not be far behind. In 2020, the Illinois General Assembly introduced HB4134, which if passed would have permitted self-exclusion from targeting mailings, advertising and promotions and from entry into dispensaries. While this bill died, it’s conceivable that we will see efforts to pass similar bills.

Finally, in 2020-21, sponsors, teams and leagues collectively, and regardless of industry, combed through the thorny issues of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can expect to observe a continuing trend of extra scrutiny paid to force majeure and so-called “make good” provisions for missed games or unavailable benefits.

New York Launches Conditional Licensing Program

By Kristin Kowalski, CPA
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Progress and history are being made in New York for adult use cannabis. Recently, Governor Hochul signed an amendment to New York State Cannabis Law which permits the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to award conditional licenses to certain adult use cultivators and processors, allowing hemp farmers in New York to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season. And now, the application period to obtain a conditional license is officially open and available for qualified candidates. New York is moving full speed ahead in the hopes of creating one of the most inclusive adult-use cannabis industries in the nation.

What Does a Conditional License Mean?

With this legislation, New York State is creating a new conditional adult use cannabis cultivator license, allowing hemp farmers to grow cannabis in the 2022 growing season – helping to fast-track the state’s adult-use cannabis program. Under the law, conditionally licensed cannabis farmers must meet certain requirements, including safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices.

Highlights of the Bill & Legislation

Industrial Hemp First

To qualify for an adult use cannabis conditional cultivator license, only companies and individuals currently licensed with the state for cultivation or processing of industrial hemp can apply for the conditional licenses. Applicants must have been an authorized industrial hemp research partner for the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and industrial hemp cultivators must have grown and harvested the crop during at least two of the past four years.

Growing Locations

Licensed cultivators will be authorized to grow indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both, subject to space and lighting limitations in the law. With a conditional adult use cannabis cultivation license, farmers can grow outdoors or in a greenhouse for up to two years from the issuance of the license. It also allows them to manufacture and distribute cannabis flower products without holding an adult use processor or distributor license, until June 1, 2023.

Expanding Abilities with License

Conditional licensees will have temporary authority to conduct additional activities not included in their license. Cultivators are allowed to both minimally process and distribute flower, and processors can distribute their products.

Requirements of Conditional License

Hemp farmers in New York could be licensed to grow cannabis for the 2022 growing season.

As listed in the bill, conditional licensees must abide by all regulations, including those issued after receipt of the license. Applicants must also participate in a soon to-be-developed mentoring program for individuals interested in joining the industry through the social equity component of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act, as well as actively participate in an environmental sustainability program. And lastly, applicants must begin operations within six months of receiving their license, and grant OCM employees’ access to the premises for inspections to ensure all rules are being followed.

Future Outlook on Cannabis Industry in New York

With the opening of the application portal for conditional licenses, this advances the Governor’s first-in-the-nation Seeding Opportunity Initiative, which positions individuals with prior cannabis-related criminal offenses to make the first adult use cannabis sales with products grown by New York hemp farmers. While this news is a positive step, there remain many unknowns about how the conditional licensing process will unfold. Applications can be filed with the OCM for Conditional Cultivator Licenses through June 30, 2022, with a $2,000 non-refundable application and licensing fee. For hopeful applicants, gathering a team of professional advisors to plan for the application process and operating an adult-use business is essential. Consulting with an accounting team or financial advisors from a tax standpoint, will be critical to establish systems and controls to maintain separate accounting records for your industrial hemp and adult use activities.

Meet Looming Federal Cannabis Regulatory Compliance Management with Automation & Confidence

By Steven Burton
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Federal regulation of the cannabis and hemp sectors is coming sooner rather than later — and this is mostly good news for cannabis businesses and consumers. But cannabis producers already struggling to meet complex and ever-changing local regulations (where they exist) will be facing a new set of challenges with another level of regulatory oversight and compliance.

Navigating multi-jurisdictional regulatory compliance management requirements is near-impossible with legacy manual systems. That’s why it’s time to leverage the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, so that you and your team can meet these compliance management complexities with confidence and ease. Whether you manufacture flower, edibles, beverages, supplements or other dispensary products, here’s what you need to know to stay agile and profitable as more changes loom.

Federal Legalization is Coming

To date, there are 18 states with adult use cannabis markets, 37 with medical cannabis programs, and an additional 13 that have some level of decriminalization. At the federal level, there have already been several attempts at cannabis law reform, with even more on the table in the coming year.

One of the most promising is the Republican-led States Reform Act, filed in November 2021. The central tenant of this proposed legislation is to remove cannabis and cannabinoids from listing as a Schedule 1 Drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Importantly, if this law passes, it would allow individual states to pursue their own cannabis policies and remove the current risks companies face when going against current federal anti-cannabis scheduling.

The States Reform Act also proposes a three percent federal tax on all cannabis sales and that all cannabis sales fall under the ​​Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB’s) control. The States Reform Act would — finally — guide the regulation of hemp-derived products through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also been working on another reform bill, specifically the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which he plans to introduce in April 2022 to further emphasize the criminal justice aspects of legal reform in the context of the War on Drugs.

While the government’s track record on cannabis regulatory reform hasn’t been as progressive as many would like, at this point there is widespread public support and proposed bills from both sides of the aisle. As a result, the US may finally see some movement on cannabis law reform in the very near future.

How to Prepare for Federal Regulatory Compliance Management

With federal regulation looming, it’s time for licensed producers to elevate their internal systems. Whether you work with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD), the regulatory protocols in an already complex marketplace are going to change.

This is especially paramount for those producing cannabis or hemp beverages, edibles and supplements. You will need comprehensive and efficient systems to facilitate this transition. An ERP should reduce compliance headaches and ensure your business is ready to scale when a national marketplace launches.

Automate Data Gathering

It is no longer cost effective to manage seed-to-sale traceability with manual data capture. With the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of data points required at most commercial facilities on a routine basis, data logging is by far the best way to start compliance automation.

Automated ERP systems, which capture essential information across your entire operation, ensure access to real-time data for forecasting, accounting, regulatory compliance reporting and traceability. That means using software that captures and logs intel from across your organization about quality control, inventory and traceability, all without arduous manual input.

The best and most successful ERP systems should be used by all employees to collect data, from sorters/pickers to fork lift drivers to supervisors to senior management. For this to happen easily, the solution must be accessible and user friendly for all employees. ERP systems that can be easily integrated with tablets and smartphones (as well as IoT devices) reduce the need for expensive terminals on the production floor and make data collection a straightforward part of daily operations.

Build Systems to Facilitate Growth from the Start

A rigid ERP system that can’t grow with you is not a smart long-term investment. An adaptable multi-platform system evolves with your company and constantly changing regulatory compliance requirements. A solution that provides access to the entire facility, instead of being limited to individual users, ensures that growing teams can easily contribute to data quality from the plant floor all the way up to the executive office for actionable insights.

Markets are opening up across the country and quite soon, many companies will be looking to expand their operations nationally. As a result, you’ll need systems that can scale, cover additional facilities, keep up with increased production, and even work across different jurisdictions.

Having instant access to detailed operational information delivers greater business oversight at the micro and macro levels – insight that is crucial for expansion, profitability, and cost-cutting measures. Companies with the right systems in place will effectively manage the resulting federal complexities to deliver on regulatory expectations and capture a competitive market share.

Leverage Regulatory Frameworks and Technology from the Food Industry

The Canadian example demonstrates clearly that the regulatory frameworks from the food and beverage industry are the most applicable to the cannabis sector – more so than for pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals or alcohol. This is most obvious in lucrative value-added markets like edibles and extracts, which are actually also food products.

Issues like dosage standardization, controlling common hazards, managing traceability chains and inventory, and introducing quality standards (including third party certifications like organic and SQF) are all crossovers from the food industry.

Just as the compliance automation wave has hit the food industry in recent years, manufacturers of infused products and extracts can then use the same technology to reduce safety and quality control costs as well as documentation and administrative costs. The lesson? Cannabis industry leaders don’t need to totally reinvent the wheel.

Cannabis Producers Need an ERP System Tailored to Their Needs

In Canada, cannabis manufacturers have learned all too well what a few little mistakes can do to reputation and profitability. MJBiz Daily reported in 2021 that the Canadian government had issued more than CDN $1.3 million (USD $1 million) in fines since legalization. That’s a lot of regulatory compliance issues. Considering there are nearly 500 compliance fields to fill out for monthly reporting, mistakes are difficult to avoid, especially if you rely on a manual system.

FDAlogoThe story is similar in the United States. State regulatory compliance management requirements are complex and arduous for individual companies and employees. When federal regulation does come, US-based producers will very likely face even more strenuous reporting requirements to multiple jurisdictions.

Cannabis companies will need a data-driven system in place to align with the FDA’s Cannabis-Derived Products Data Acceleration Plan. Finding food safety and traceability software that makes reporting easier, automatic, and less prone to human error is paramount to success. As you prepare for the looming federal legislation, look for an ERP system that covers all the bases, including one that:

  • Improves Market Agility: Expedites opening new facilities in new markets as they come online
  • Evolves with Regulatory Changes: Facilitates the transition from unregulated markets into federally regulated ones
  • Automates Reporting: Protects you from regulatory compliance management bumbles stemming from manual input and human error
  • Reduces Workload: Optimizes workflow and reduces labor costs associated with manual input
  • Is Comprehensive: Covers all bases, including food safety, quality control, traceability, production management, and even occupational health and safety

If you aren’t automating the capture of essential information across the entire operation, you won’t be prepared for the regulatory burdens likely to come with federal cannabis legislation. To stay compliant and on top of what will likely be an incredibly competitive marketplace, you are going to need real-time data — data that will provide precise seed-to-sale traceability, product recall capability, and reporting.

Digitizing safety, traceability and complex production management through one state-of-the-art ERP system allows cannabis companies to reap the rewards of data-driven, automation technology almost immediately without the significant capital expenditure on large-scale equipment or robotics. From there, navigating regulatory complexity becomes not only streamlined and operationalized, but an actual market advantage for future growth.

USDA’s Hemp Testing Rules: Fast Track Your Lab’s Preparedness with Digitization

By Martha Hernández
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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a Final Rule (FR) on hemp testing that went into effect on 22nd March 2021. Consequently, all hemp testing laboratories must familiarize themselves with what is stipulated in the FR and do all that is required to comply.

The 2014 Farm Bill put to an end to years of hemp prohibition, at least to some extent. It also paved the way for the 2018 Farm Bill that brought hemp at par with other agricultural crops. States, through their departments of agriculture and institutions of higher learning, were allowed to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes, under what was called the hemp pilot programs. Some states also allowed individuals to cultivate hemp to investigate the economic and agronomic viability of the crop. This increased the acreage of industrial hemp from zero to about 90,000 by 2018 when the Agricultural Act that legalized hemp was passed. Some of the states that participated in this program included Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, and Oregon.

As expected of a new project, some challenges cropped up, including:

  • Inconsistency in the quality of hemp produced for research
  • Varying hemp laws between states
  • Maintaining regular supplies of inputs such as seeds and pest control
  • Lack of appropriate knowledge and technology

The 2018 Farm Bill addressed some of these challenges through the Hemp Farming Act that proposed to remove hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp, in this case, refers to cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3% THC by “dry weight.” Proposals in the hemp act were incorporated into the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill and it became law in December 2018, thus making hemp legal at the federal level.

Unlike other agricultural commodities, hemp is a highly regulated crop because of its close association with cannabis which is still under Schedule 1 controlled substances. Once hemp exceeds the 0.3% THC threshold, it becomes classified as cannabis and is, therefore, governed under a different set of regulations.

The next step after the legalization of hemp was to roll out a nationwide hemp cultivation and distribution program. Consequently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was instructed to develop a national framework to regulate the production of hemp in the U.S. An Interim Final Rule (IFR) was published in October 2019 to set the ball rolling. A final rule was published as an improvement of the IFR in January 2021. The Final Rule was created based on public comments received during the period as well as direct lessons learned in the 2020 growing season. The Final Rule took effect on 22nd March, 2021.

A schematic representation of the key federal rules for hemp testing laboratories (Figure courtesy of CloudLIMS)

The USDA requires that all hemp be tested by a third-party laboratory to ensure that quality is maintained and that the THC threshold is not exceeded. The Final Rule made significant changes to the USDA’s hemp testing rules that will affect how laboratories carry out their operations. While the guidelines were issued on January 15, 2021, they went into effect on March 22 of the same year. If you are a hemp-testing laboratory, here are the most important changes that you should brace for.

Nine Changes Hemp Testing Labs Must Comply With

  1. Changes in sampling 

Previously, samples to be tested were restricted to the top third portion of the hemp plant. With the Final Rule, samples can be taken anywhere from 5-8 inches from the main stem (including the leaves and flowers). This provision offers greater flexibility and reduces the chances of “hot” hemp.

  1. Laboratories shall use specific testing methods

According to the Final Rule, hemp-testing laboratories must use reliable methods to test for THC concentration. This includes methods such as post-decarboxylation; they take into consideration the conversion of THCA to THC after decarboxylation. Currently, methods that meet these requirements include gas chromatography and liquid chromatography.

The USDA also expects that laboratories demonstrate consistent testing reliability and validity. The test methods used must have high specificity for THC and other tested compounds.

  1. Negligence limit raised to 1% THC

Negligence limit refers to the extra wiggle room that is advanced to hemp farmers in regards to THC testing. In the IFR, hemp that tested above 0.3% THC but lower than 0.5% was considered negligence and not a violation of federal laws. This limit for negligence has now been pushed from 0.5% to 1%. As much as the Final Rule has maintained the THC limit for hemp at 0.3%, growers now have a wider margin of error to work with.

For hemp-testing laboratories, all samples that test above 0.3% THC are still considered hot hemp and must be destroyed or remediated. However, samples testing below 1% THC are considered a negligent violation and not a criminal offense.

  1. All hemp testing laboratories need to be DEA registered

The Final Rule made it mandatory for all hemp-testing laboratories to be registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Getting this registration is time intensive and the number of registered laboratories is few. With this in mind, the USDA had extended the registration deadline to the last day of 2022. After the expiry of this period, laboratories that are not registered with the DEA will be barred from conducting hemp testing.

  1. Laboratories to calculate Measure of Uncertainty (MU)

With the Final Rule, laboratories are expected to calculate and include the MU when reporting test results. The Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement (GUM) defines MU as “a parameter, associated with the result of a measurement, which characterizes the dispersion of the values that could reasonably be attributed to the measurand.”

While there is no upper or lower limit for the MU, it is controlled using performance standards such as AOAC Standard Method Performance Requirements. Organizations such as ISO and Eurachem also provide guidelines for calculating MU. Hemp testing laboratories can refer to those guidelines as well.

  1. Adherence to the ISO 17025 standards

While this is not an enforceable rule, the USDA strongly recommends all hemp testing laboratories be ISO 17025 compliant.

  1. Laboratory SOPs

Testing laboratories must have an internal SOP for testing and retesting hemp. This SOP should be available upon request by state sampling agents or other responsible agents. Laboratory managers should ensure that all staff members follow the SOPs.

  1. Reporting of THC

Once a laboratory has completed the test, whether failed or passed, they should share the results with all stakeholders:

  • The licensed producer
  • The appropriate State Department of Agriculture or Tribe
  • The USDA using AMS Form 22.
  • The THC should be reported on a “dry weight” basis.
  1. Remediating and retestingof hot hemp

Once a laboratory finds a sample that has tested above 0.3% THC, it has to flag it as “hot” hemp. Previously, all hot hemp had to be destroyed but with the FR, parts of the hemp (excluding the flowers) can be salvaged.

A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) to manage multi-analyte test results and flag hot hemp (Figure courtesy of CloudLIMS)

The licensed producers (LP) are required to shred the hemp into biomass and send a sample back to the laboratory for retesting. The laboratory shall use the same procedure to retest the biomass and report the results back to the LP and the USDA.

The hemp final rule took full effect on the last day of 2021. The only extended deadline is the one requiring that all hemp-testing laboratories be registered with the DEA that still has a few more months to go.

Fast Track Your Laboratory’s Preparedness with a LIMS

Becoming compliant with USDA’s hemp testing rules can be quite challenging for a laboratory simply because there’s too much to keep up with. A laboratory must monitor samples, analyze and report test results, and at the same time maintain internal quality protocols.

Fortunately, digitization can help streamline processes and accelerate the preparedness of laboratories for the new federal rules. A cloud-based Laboratory Management Information System (LIMS) takes the hard work out of compliance by keeping track of compliance processes seamlessly and in real-time.

A LIMS enables laboratories to:

  • Track samples through their lifecycle
  • Automatically share results with stakeholders
  • Flag hot hemp samples
  • Generate certificates of analysis (COAs) in prescribed formats
  • Meet regulatory compliances
  • Manage SOPs, staff training, and QA/QC protocols

Hemp that tests above the 0.3% THC mark is considered cannabis and is therefore illegal under federal law. Consequently, hemp testing is a highly sensitive process that is strictly regulated. Hemp-testing laboratories must optimize their processes to ensure efficiency at all times and assure the validity of their test results. This can be made possible with a LIMS.

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SC Laboratories Partners with Agricor & Botanacor

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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This week, three companies in the cannabis testing space announced a partnership: Agricor Laboratories, its sister company Botanacor Laboratories and SC Laboratories will join forces to work together on comprehensive cannabis and hemp testing throughout the United States. The press release says that this partnership creates the foundation for a national testing network, offering comprehensive cannabis and hemp lab testing.

Agricor and Botanacor laboratories, founded in 2014, are sister companies headquartered in Denver, Colorado. SC Labs, founded in 2010, is based out of Santa Cruz, California. They say the partnership will bring value to cannabis and hemp industry stakeholders by offering a broader range of testing resources, better data collection and delivery, instrument redundancy, increased testing capacity and improved turnaround times.

“Agricor, Botanacor, and SC Laboratories have well-earned reputations for delivering high-efficacy results, through a ‘science-first’ approach to product quality, safety, and compliance,” says Dr. Carl Craig, CEO of Agricor and Botanacor. “With operations in Colorado, California, and Oregon, the newly combined operation is uniquely positioned to support multi-state cannabis operators, as well as hemp producers within the U.S. and throughout the world.”

Each lab is ISO 17025 accredited and have become known as leaders in the hemp testing market, offering a wide range of tests to meet state regulations in every corner of the United States. Last year, SC Labs debuted their comprehensive hemp testing panel, claiming they could meet testing standards in every state in the country.

“This combination creates the largest specialized resource in North America that is committed to delivering exceptional testing results that empower smarter growing, manufacturing, and consumer decision making,” says Jeff Gray, CEO of SC Labs. “By combining these reputable science organizations, we’ve taken major steps toward creating a laboratory network that is dedicated to improving the safety of cannabis products for all consumers, globally.”

According to Gray and the press release, the team is setting their sights on the global market, beyond just the United States. “The organization is focused on continued expansion via acquisition and organic entry to new markets – all with the focus on best serving customers’ needs across North America and supporting a growth market where testing can help deliver confidence to consumers,” reads the press release.