While the Massachusetts marijuana market continues to get its ducks in a row, working through delays and discussions that continue to plague exactly how both medical and recreational will be regulated, there is a call from advocates to first fix the product for the smaller farm producer.
Governor Charlie Baker just signed a compromise bill on July 28 that adds micro-growers, similar to microbrewers, to the process – something advocates across the state consider a big win. The bill also includes a tax increase on retail pot sales – from 12 to 20 percent – and expands the oversight structure for the expected marijuana industry. There is still no tax for medical marijuana in Massachusetts, and edibles will be allowed for recreational sales.
The bill stipulates that the any micro-grower has to be a resident of the state, and has to operate in true co-op fashion, with the idea that the more people allowed into the industry the better it is for everyone.
A new safety campaign addresses the guidelines for the state to work with those local farmers growing cannabis in craft marijuana cooperatives. “This places the cannabis industry in a vulnerable position,” a document released by Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council – “Clean Safe Local” – states. “If we want safe and reliable product standards, we need consistent testing data.”
The testing campaign will be conducted through the MRCC, with the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), now being organized, hoping to lobby this testing effort into a program.
Getting quality product free from contaminants is one of the major economic drivers of cannabis in both medical and recreational across the country – and some would argue, a driver that is even more important for the medical community.
Reports of immune-compromised late-stage illness patients using moldy cannabis to treat cancer, then suffering severe reactions, have surfaced over the last few years. A February, 2017 study by the University of California-Davis found that some medical marijuana contains multiple bacterial and fungal pathogens that may cause serious and even fatal infections. They warn that smoking, vaping or inhaling aerosolized marijuana could pose a grave risk to patients, especially those with leukemia, lymphoma, AIDS or conditions requiring immune-suppressing therapies.
Massachusetts is on a mission to make sure that their craft cultivators are getting the best quality cannabis.
The Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council (MRCC), a coalition of researchers, scientists, students and community leaders, predicts that large grows and small grows alike can alleviate current product shortages and provide consumers with safe and tested products, but that greater amounts of producers increase the chances of product contaminated with mold, pesticides or heavy metals.
The MRCC proposes a “secret shopper” testing project, similar to projects used in Washington and Oregon, where unaffiliated mystery shoppers perform specific tasks such as purchasing product, testing the product at all currently operating labs and then providing detailed reports.
The coalition hopes that using a secret-shopping program assures state lab methods/protocols are secure, uniform, and accurate; helps retail locations identify qualified smaller grows and co-ops capable of complementing dispensary supply; ensures the consumer is receiving safe and clean product; ensures labs are publishing accurate results; and educates the cannabis industry.
The Washington state secret shopping program analysis found some labs did not have enough government support to provide accurate test results, as reported in The Seattle Times: “Four labs rejected none of the pot they tested over a three-month period last year, according to the analysis by Jim MacRae (a data scientist at Straight Line Analytics). Four other labs failed more than 12 percent of samples tested over the same time, with two labs rejecting 44 percent of samples for microbes.”
This Massachusetts quality assurance service will compare different product forms ( flower, concentrate, etc.) and will check for cannabinoids, heavy metals, mold and microbes. The first quality assurance check will focus on flower product and cannabinoid potency through different lab processes spelled out by the MRCC.
The analytical evidence collected from these samples is expected to help the MRCC understand the current Massachusetts marijuana market and identify the sectors which require more development; show which tested home growers are capable of producing high quality products that can complement the legal supply and alleviate current dispensary product quota; and ensure a safe, responsible industry which will further a higher standard of cannabis products available in the market.
David Hodes is based in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. He is the former editor of seven different business magazines, and has contributed feature articles to several business/lifestyle publications and national cannabis magazines. Hodes is also a former field producer for CBS News, NBC, NFL Network, ESPN and other media outlets; worked as a news promotions producer for two network affiliates; and was the morning news editor for a third network affiliate.
He is member of the National Press Club, and deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.
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