What's In Your Weed? Starting July 1 You'll Know For Sure

Marijuana samples at the Cannalysis Laboratory in Santa Ana. (Photo by Kyle Grillot for LAist)

California's legal recreational pot shops have been rolling in business for close to six months. But they've been able to sell products without disclosing what's really in them.

That's about to change.

On July 1, all cannabis sold in California must be tested in a state-licensed lab. Testing results will give customers more information about the cannabis they're consuming. But — listen carefully — strict rules could also lead to a sudden shortage of testing-compliant pot.

One of the testing labs is Cannalysis in Santa Ana. Inside the 12,000 square-foot facility, workers in white coats and latex gloves measure out samples of cannabis and prep them for analysis on an array of expensive scientific instruments.

Labs need to be able to test marijuana in all its forms, from edibles to concentrates to the plant itself.

(Photo by Kyle Grillot for LAist)

"We see a lot of these," said Cannalysis chief scientific officers Swetha Kaul, grabbing a little glass container from a lab bench. "These are cartridges that go into vape pens."

Kaul left a career in pharmaceuticals (she previously worked on Botox for Allergan) to put her PhD toward challenges in the cannabis industry. Challenges like how to test the pot trapped inside these vape cartridges.

"One of the issues with that is, as you can imagine, these guys are not meant to be broken," she said.

INSIDE THE SNOOP ROOM

There's a lot still to be figured out, but Kaul said it's exciting to be giving Californians the kind of information they didn't have before.

Sitting at a conference table in the office's "Snoop Room" (yes, Snoop Dogg is an investor), Kaul said, "There are things you want a positive test for, and then there are things you want a negative test for.

For instance, customers want to see the levels of different cannabinoids in their pot, like THC and CBD. Those chemical compounds determine what kind of high they'll experience. But they also want to know that their pot is free of other ingredients.

"We're looking at pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals," Kaul said. "We have action limits that are given to us by the state." Growers and manufacturers need to get their products below those thresholds to continue selling them in the legal market.

State regulators gave pot shops a grace period for the first six months of legalization. Shops could continue selling untested cannabis, as long as it was harvested before 2018 and was clearly labeled to note that it hadn't been tested.

But on Sunday, that grace period comes to an end. In anticipation, many California shops have been having blow-out sales on untested pot, because regulators have told the industry that come July destroy any cannabis that doesn't meet testing standards

Of course, Southern California's many unlicensed shops could continue to disregard the rules. But in legal shops, Kaul says customers are about to see labels on their pot akin to the labels they see on their food.

"You should get to a point where you can pick up whatever product, look at the back, and understand exactly what's in it," Kaul said.

PUFF PUFF POOF

The July 1 testing deadline could lead to some products disappearing from pot shop shelves. But the testing requirements aren't just a big deal for shops — they're also going to affect cannabis distributors.

Under the law, distribution sites are where products will be sampled for testing. Is the industry ready?

"Ready or not, here we come," said Eric Spitz, CEO of SoCal cannabis distributor C4 Distro.

He said in the past, growers could put pretty much anything into California's cannabis market, "Which was a relatively lawless, unencumbered type of economy."

But now, pot that's laced with pesticides or shipped in dirty conditions is likely to fail a lab test. But Spitz said brands that are ready for testing will see a huge advantage.

"We are looking at this as a time for our brands who are compliant to show off, and to get a leg up," he said.

Other distributors also anticipate product shortages come July. But they say ultimately, testing will be a good thing for the industry because it will create more consumer trust.

(Photo by Kyle Grillot for LAist)

Lauren Fraser, executive director for the California-based Cannabis Distribution Association, said, "As much as there is fear about the transition, there's also a lot of excitement. Because this is what we've been really seeking for the last 20 years in California: a regulated marketplace."

So far, there are only a handful of licensed cannabis testing labs in Southern California. The city of Los Angeles hasn't even started to accept applications for local lab business licenses.That means licensed labs in places like Long Beach and Orange County, such as Cannalysis, are getting a lot of calls right now.

"The demand for local services is extremely high," said Swetha Kaul.

But like so much of California's cannabis industry, even Cannalysis isn't totally ready for the July 1 deadline. The company just got its permits this month, and parts of its lab are still under construction. They hope to start doing full compliance testing about a week into July.

Editor's Note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here.


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