In 1906 the U.S. Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in the wake of numerous food and drug production scandals. The Act required drugs, including cannabis, to have “accurately labeled contents”, and launched the modern system of labeling, inspections and testing to protect US consumer health.  However, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively ended all legal production of cannabis and cannabis products in the United States. Finally, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 categorized cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance along with the likes of heroin, LSD and peyote. This was the final nail in the coffin for any major progress on cannabis research, product development or testing.

It wasn’t until the year 2000, the turn of this century, where we saw any major steps forward. The movement to legalize swept the west coast of the U.S. then headed east, bringing to date, 33 states with some form of a medical cannabis program in place, 10 of which who have gone further enacting legal recreational/adult use as well. Each state, working with their Departments of Public Health to set standards to ensure public safety. But the science of testing cannabis had to catch up with our expectation for a clean product and the systems that had been developed for all other sectors since 1906.

Colorado was one of the first states to legalize medical cannabis in 2000. Colorado regulators have implemented one of the longest running cannabis testing programs in the country, hosting 11 cannabis testing labs to date. In Colorado, testing for potency and different contaminants has been phased in over several years. In 2014, the first mandatory tests were introduced for potency and residual solvents. In 2016 biocontaminant testing was added, followed by pesticide testing in 2018 and finally formal proficiency testing of cannabis laboratories was begun by the CDPHE in 2017.

This progression of testing techniques, with an emphasis on proficiency, has given laboratories the impetus to develop better testing methods and optimize their equipment. It has also allowed the cannabis marketplace to adjust to the mechanics and expenses of testing, knowing that they are getting a better and safer product. However, as different states have legalized forms of cannabis, each state has created its own management of cannabis testing, which has created uneven results. We propose that we do more to share our information at forums like these, with an emphasis on the Seed to Sale process.

Testing labs have the capability to provide more, to push the industry forward in product optimization, data driven conclusions, and problem solving which can ultimately support cannabis as a credible product and medicine.

Dr. Anna Ettinger is the Laboratory Director of Rm3 Labs in Boulder, Colorado. Founded in 2009, Rm3 Labs received ISO accreditation in 2018 and employs 18 scientists with a total of 167 years of scientific experience.

Dr. Brianna Cassidy is the Chief Science Officer for CDX Analytics in Salem, Massachusetts. CDX Analytics received ISO accreditation in 2017 and recently received an ISO audit report demonstrating zero minor or major nonconformances.