Contaminant and potency testing are among the most critical and challenging steps in the process of harvesting cannabis. In Colorado, testing is required by state law, which is continuously changing as the legal industry further establishes itself. Cultivators and manufacturers can save time and money by staying abreast of the current regulations and brushing up on specifics once a year.
This post details the legal requirements for cannabis testing in Colorado effective through December 31, 2019. With the new year, the law will be updated to combine regulations for medical and retail cannabis, which were previously regulated under different laws. Current testing regulations will still be in place. The laws are available to review in their entirety by visiting the Department of Revenue’s MED Rules page.
The Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), a branch of the state Department of Revenue, oversees the industry and possesses the power to dictate when and where product is tested or retested. This means the MED can require a cultivator, manufacturer, or dispensary to submit product for additional rounds of testing after a batch has already passed. A case like this may arise when government officials are conducting official investigations or have reason to believe product may pose a safety risk to consumers. Recently, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) randomly tested product on the shelves of numerous Denver dispensaries, with many coming back positive for contaminant counts over the legal limit.
Contaminant and Potency Testing 101
All cannabis products must undergo both contaminant and potency testing, and failure of either could result in the destruction of an entire harvest. Contaminant testing includes numerous types of microbials, residual solvents, metals, and pesticides – a detailed breakdown of which can be found under section 4-115 (formerly R/M 712) of the Colorado Marijuana Rules. For potency, labs must at least test for levels of THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, and CBN.
Testing facilities are responsible for determining the required weight of testing samples, as well as the number of sample batches that must be submitted. These specifications apply to flower, concentrate, and other cannabis-infused products like edibles or tinctures. If a cultivator or manufacturer provides a testing sample that does not meet the minimum requirements, the testing facility is required by law to reject it.
Testing sample batches can be compliantly collected by personnel at a cultivation or manufacturing facility to submit for testing; however, the MED may also elect a representative of the division to collect samples under certain circumstances, such as an official investigation.
A batch fails contaminant testing if a lab detects contaminant levels that exceed the legal limit. For example, a test that finds more than 10,000 colony forming units (CFUs) of yeast and mold in a batch of flower would fail. These amounts differ depending on the specific contaminant, the details of which are documented under section 4-115 of the Colorado Marijuana Rules.
For initial potency testing, cultivators are required to submit samples “on four Harvest Batches, created a minimum of one week apart, for each strain…that it cultivates.” If the potency results of all four tests fall within a range of plus or minus 15 percent of each other, the product passes testing and is considered homogenous. The average potency of those four tests is listed on the product once it’s for sale. These same guidelines also apply to concentrate potency. After the initial four potency tests, cultivators are still required to test each strain it grows at least once per quarter.
Infused products are tested after processing, so the flower used to make the product is exempt from testing at the time of harvest. Upon successful testing, the potency levels are reported as the number of cannabinoids per milligram contained within each product unit instead of a percentage. Once process validation is achieved, a manufacturer must submit a sample from a batch of each product they make for retesting once a quarter.
Cultivators and manufacturers can validate their processes if they meet specific testing standards per regulations. Read our Process Validation and Sampling Procedures post for more details.
Process validation is valid for a year following the date of the last successful test of the validated batch. To maintain process validation status, growers and manufacturers must submit sample batches for testing every 30 days or once their next harvested batch is ready to be submitted.
Failing a Contaminant or Potency Test
Testing facilities are required to notify a cultivator or manufacturer immediately if their product fails testing, and the failure must be reported in METRC, the state’s designated inventory tracking system software. Failed product must also be quarantined as soon as a lab notifies a cultivator or manufacturer of the failed testing result. Government officials may also require a quarantine if they suspect a product poses significant harm to consumers. In cases such as this, government officials can seize possession of and immediately quarantine product, rendering it unavailable for sale.
Destroying product due to failed testing is one of the worst-case scenarios for cultivators and manufacturers. Implementing clean growing practices and prioritizing the production of safe consumable products enables cannabis businesses to avoid the negative outcomes of failed testing. Willow Industries offers an innovative solution for producers looking to introduce a decontamination kill-step into their processes or remediate failed product with the WillowPure system. The system is Willow’s proprietary ozone decontamination technology that is proven to help cultivators and manufacturers pass and exceed state testing regulations. For more information on the WillowPure system and our decontamination and remediation solutions, contact a Willow Industries sales representative today.