Consumers in Nevada paid $170 million in marijuana taxes during the first two years of legal recreational sales. Some of that money was to ensure a safe and regulated supply of cannabis products.
But with at least one lab accused of inflating THC results, Nevada regulators, charged with ensuring safe and accurately labeled cannabis are telling buyers to beware. THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana.
The Department of Taxation, which oversees the cannabis industry, suspended the license of Certified AG Lab in Sparks earlier this month, saying marijuana tested there may be labeled with “inaccurate and misleading” THC level information.
The state urged cannabis users to “take caution when using product tested” by the lab, but refused to identify the products in question.
“The Department advises all legal cannabis users to take caution when using product tested by Certified Ag Labs, LLC and when comparing any similar products of the same potency, as those effects may be greater and/or less than that of the product tested by Certified Ag Labs, LLC,” the notice says.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, who formed an emergency task force in October partially in response to “serious allegations of manipulated lab results,” has nothing to say about the state’s refusal to notify consumers of the products in question.
“We defer to the Department of Taxation on this matter as it falls under their purview,” Sisolak’s spokesperson said.
Taxation Department Director Melanie Young did not respond to requests for comment on the state’s policy.
Certified Ag Labs, LLC also did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the directive from the state to consumers to do their own detective work, Nevada law leaves customers in the dark as to where their marijuana was tested.
NAC 453A.508 details the labeling requirements for marijuana and related products. The identity of the testing facility is not required information.
In an industry where many customers have purchased untested, black market cannabis for years, does THC testing really matter?
“It’s probably not a huge concern because it wouldn’t be like an edible where the potency can vary so much,” says Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association. “The difference between an 18 percent and 22 percent THC content, it’s not a public health threat.”
Maybe. But the government’s promise of safe, tested product from seed to sale is one of the legal industry’s greatest attractions as it competes with the illegal market for customers.
Durrett applauds the Taxation Department for taking action and encourages more investigation.
“If you’re changing THC test scores, what else are you doing?” she asks. “I think it’s great they’re nipping this in the bud. Go in, investigate and find out who is doing false test results.”
Durrett says the public can expect to witness more regulatory enforcement once the Cannabis Compliance Board is established.
“We’ll see more public hearings on infractions, and fines because the fines will be so significant, it will be worth it to have hearings,” she says. “My members want to see compliance. They want best practices and uniformity and they pay a lot to get it.”
Attorney General Aaron Ford has taken no action thus far to crack down on the alleged “inaccurate and misleading” results that led to the latest lab enforcement action.
Not all buds are created equally and the very nature of the plant could complicate prosecutorial efforts.
“Cannabis plants are highly variable from top cola to bottom buds,” writes Dominic Corva, Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research. “This is a problem of sampling a product that is not uniform. It can be a little helpful to require independent, third party samplers. But even when that happens, the plant is highly variable. It’s a plant, not an industrial product.”
What’s more, the industry lacks the standardized methods that allow legitimate comparison, complicating the job of regulators and leaving labs to collaborate on best practices.
Additionally, reference standards, the samples labs use to compare products in order to arrive at their results, are variable and available from a number of suppliers.
Some experts suggest states conduct audits in which blind samples are tested by a variety of labs that would be analyzed by regulators.
Others suggest for-profit laboratories are ill-suited to maintain integrity when their success depends on delivering results that satisfy their customers.
Nevada lawmakers never considered the possibility of having the state conduct lab tests, says Clark County Commissioner and former State Senator Tick Segerblom.
“But we should have state labs which randomly test the testers,” he says.