Taking Consumer Safety Seriously: Transparency in Irradiation

The cannabis industry is exceeding expectations around the world with revenue and growth virtually unphased by the coronavirus pandemic. We are quite literally an industry stepping out of the shadows and into legitimate markets. How do we gain consumer trust, while continuing to spread acceptance and maintain regulatory momentum? We must be transparent in our practices, and in the products we’re providing.

Identifying Cannabis Irradiation 

Cannabis irradiation is a process involving the exposure of cannabis products to ionizing radiation, typically gamma rays or electron beams, to reduce microbial contamination and extend shelf life. This technique is employed to eliminate harmful bacteria, molds, fungi, and other pathogens that may be present in cannabis plants, flowers, or related products. By breaking down the DNA of these microorganisms, irradiation helps ensure the safety of cannabis products for consumption, especially in medical and recreational contexts. 

Transparency is essential to growing trust from within the industry and from those being exposed to cannabis for the first time. Compliance standards nationally fail to meet this bar, as a patchwork of regulations from state to state gives no clear answer on what is safe to consume, how it should be tested, or what it should be tested for. So, if we set aside the standards themselves and strive for clean instead of compliant, what does that mean?

It could mean grow anything, any way, with minimal controls or care, and nuke the hell out of it when you are done, to put a sterile inorganic product on the shelf. It could mean taking every possible precaution for your facility, staff, genetics, and processes and removing any need for such an aggressive and unnecessary step. Healthy plants do not require cannabis irradiation, though at Willow of course we still recommend an organic kill-step to remove surface contaminants and extend shelf-life.

Understanding the Irradiation Symbol 

How in-depth consumer awareness is of irradiation and what that means will vary greatly. Irradiated food has required specific labeling – the Radura symbol, “Treated with radiation” – since 1986. This is not to say that the product is ‘unsafe’ after treatment, but a reflection on the FDA’s decision that consumers have the right to know if their produce or meat has been irradiated.

 The Importance of Cannabis Irradiation 

Why shouldn’t cannabis consumers have the same rights? Irradiated food has come and gone as a concern – it’s properly labeled, and shopping in the organic section addresses consumer demand for natural products. Organic certification will require federal oversight, and be way down the list after decriminalization/descheduling/legalization so don’t hold your breath on that solution.

The Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board is looking to adopt this FDA standard to their cannabis regulations. They received pushback after a September 2020 ruling that declared drugs treated with radiation would no longer need to display the Radura symbol, but foods would still need to be labeled. If you need life saving medicine, sterility is going to be more important than taste, smell or experience. Cannabis consumers are among the most discerning consumers of any product out there, and if you don’t tell them it’s been irradiated, they’ll experience the low quality flower and move on anyway.

 It is already being blamed for “flavorless and low-potency flower” on shelves throughout Michigan.

Canada allows for irradiation of half as many food types as the US, but then doesn’t require them to be labeled as such. It’s been a much discussed topic north of the border, and a point of pride for growers who can claim product as non-irradiated or even Organic. They’ve turned the issue – if it doesn’t brag about not being irradiated, it’s most likely irradiated.

The FDA says there’s no damage done to products treated this way; industry groups strongly disagree. That’s why transparency is the answer. When the FDA mandates labeling of irradiated products, what will all the cultivators who took this shortcut tell their customers?

Willow’s Cannabis Disinfection Solution 

Consumers have a right to know what has been done to their products and make their own decisions. It is that simple and, despite some outside misconceptions, cannabis consumers are knowledgeable, involved, and care deeply about what we are purchasing. 

We know what terpenes we enjoy and recognize when they’re missing. We believe in natural products and should not be lied to about how our flower has been treated. We deserve to make their own decisions about products hit with incredibly high levels of radiation. 

Our cannabis ozone disinfection technology decontaminates product post harvest, while our team of microbiologists helps decontaminate your facility from the start. This combined effort leaves you confident when it comes to testing, proud to sell your products to consumers, and most of all helps you build a stronger business.