You’ve been waiting for that special meal at that special restaurant all week. The waiter proudly shares the chef’s special of the day and adds a newly required disclaimer: “It’s absolutely delicious, chef has won international acclaim and a recent award on The Food Channel but, I must inform you, it may contain E. coli, salmonella, pesticides and a bit of mold. Any questions?” While it sounds both obvious and ridiculous, sometimes extremes are required to make a point when it comes to consumer protection. Most people are particular about what they put into their bodies. Californians take “particular’ to an entirely higher level, typically seeing menu items as a mere starting point for their personal preferences. If there is even a question for potential illness, the option is avoided like the plague.

Jill Ellsworth

Unfortunately, many of us assume that if a product is available for purchase, it is acceptable to be consumed. The food analogy is directly comparable to cannabis, where there is greater margin for error in a newly legal industry with ever evolving safety regulations that often lack compliance and an ever-growing black market. No guaranteed solutions for consumer safety have emerged. A few companies in California, however, are helping make the cannabis consumed by Angelenos safer.

WillowPure, is a proprietary, patented machine that produces a pure ozone gas for the purification and decontamination of cannabis flower and trim. The machine is the brainchild of Jill Ellsworth, founder and CEO of Willow Industries, whose prior experience in the food industry taught her to always have a “kill step” to ensure no contaminants survived which could cause sickness. Based on Ellsworth’s knowledge of other agricultural decontamination devices, she designed a machine to prevent or decontaminate mold, mildew, yeast, E. coli, salmonella and aspergillus.  “Compliance and consumer safety in cannabis is essential,” Ellsworth said. “We wanted a clean, safe product for consumers and one that passed all testing to limit revenue losses for cultivators.” Ellsworth came up with the idea for cannabis decontamination technology in 2015 and launched Willow Industries a year later. While other traditional food safety technology is being adjusted by some for cannabis safety purposes, the WillowPure machine is the first specifically designed for cannabis. Ellsworth estimates that her device has saved cultivators in excess of $50 million in revenue by treating nearly 20,000 pounds in 10 states, including California. She takes pride in being able to educate regulators with industry-specific knowledge gleaned from empirical data.  “We help them understand the necessity of testing, why things happen and that solutions are available,” she explained.

Another  California company with its eye on consumer safety is CannaSafe, which is helping reduce pesticide failure rates for cannabis products. Founded in 2011, its motto is: “Create a safer, legal cannabis industry”.  With over 250 active clients, CannaSafe was the first accredited company to test cannabis. Talking about market share: one-third of California’s legalized products passes through a CannaSafe lab.

“There’s been a sharp decline in the failure rate of cannabis in California,” Aaron Riley, CEO of CannaSafe, stated. “In January of this year, at the onset of adult-use legalization, few were following regulations and 70 percent of products were failing, Riley said. “Today, that number is only 5 to 10 percent due in part to government agencies’ new and stricter enforcement of regulations.”

Where is cannabis failing the most? The big three are: pesticide levels, heavy metals and microbial pathogens. If you are lighting up, these will be absorbed in your bloodstream quickly and could prove deadly. In addition to screeenings of each of these, CannaSafe also conducts analyses for cannabinoid potency, terpene types and levels, residual solvent, water activity, moisture content, foreign material and mycotoxins. If it’s in your cannabis, CannaSafe can detect it; something positive for growers, consumers and regulators alike.

“We want to do what we can to help and protect consumers and although progress has been made, there’s still a long way to go”. Riley said. He estimates only about an eighth of the market is presently compliant and as a result, recommends only buying cannabis from licensed dispensaries to ensure products are tested. In the even Wilder West of CBD products, where hundreds are being launched daily, Riley estimated that close to 70 percent of CBD products advertised don’t have any CBD in them and are often laced with pesticides, solubles and heavy metals. To prove his theory, CannaSafe analyzed 20  different CBD products for the television show “he Doctors. Sixteen failed to meet laboratory requirements and five didn’t contain any CBD. Buyer beware: we are in a new era of snake oil salesmen and pitchmen, so as a consumer, no product should be purchased blindly.

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