Colorado marijuana shop the Denver Kush Club. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Op-ed: Limiting the THC in marijuana products is not a reasonable solution

Continued from page one.

Beyond the impact on customers, many businesses that exclusively produce recreational concentrates or products made with extracts such as edibles (especially capsules and syringes made with raw concentrate) would probably just close up shop. To most quality concentrate producers, the thought of diluting a pure extract product with whatever chemical additive is able get it down to 15 percent total THC is sickening; To most edible producers, the thought of having to go back to cannabutter infused with 15 percent THC (or lower) flower to produce a reliable, consistent product is equally terrifying.

The trickle-down effects of these unnecessary, unscientific changes to laws that are already working well would drastically alter the landscape of Colorado cannabis, resulting in lost tax revenue, closed businesses, reduced efficacy of products across the board and would also feed the black market.

Can labs be trusted?

It’s all well and good to say there is a limit of 15 percent THC on products, but testing and enforcing that is another matter entirely. To make either of these proposals workable, it requires a reliable testing industry that can accurately determine what does and does not exceed these limits.

Currently the cannabis testing industry is under fire for a general lack of standards and a lack of consensus on what testing methods are acceptable for what types of products. Some labs use high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), some use gas chromatography (GC), some use a combination of GC and mass spectroscopy (GC/MS) and some utilize all available methods. These various methods produce wildly differing results, but even the same method performed by two different labs can result in cannabinoid levels that range widely enough to cause major problems for businesses attempting to comply.

Let’s think about how this may work: If a company submits a test sample to a lab and gets numbers back at 14.9 percent THC, but a secondary test on that same batch (conducted either by a state regulatory agency or by the dispensary itself) comes back at 16.1 percent? With the way cannabis plants grow, the light-shielded bottom of a plant may have a wildly different cannabinoid profile than the tops, so this type of variation within batches and even individual plants is to be expected.

Further, the way a “batch” is currently defined by the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) is simply:

A specifically identified quantity of processed Retail Marijuana that is uniform in strain, cultivated utilizing the same pesticide and other agricultural chemicals and harvested at the same time.

This means that a gigantic flowering room filled with hundreds of plants yielding 100-plus pounds of finished cannabis can be called a “batch” as long as they are the same strain. So the struggling runt covered in mites pushed against the wall could just as easily be sent for testing as the trichome-laden champion in the middle of the room, giving very different results at the lab. So if a small sample sent to testing from a batch clears its main hurdle and tests below 16 percent THC and then the producer gets spot-tested later on a different tiny sample from a better plant from that same batch, there is a huge possibility of a fail for this reason alone.

Even deeper, with so many testing options, a secondary test by regulators could be performed on different equipment by different lab techs using different processes and different equations to deliver final results.

No, just … no

If thinking about this is making your head spin, imagine if your business and the livelihood of possibly hundreds of employees was at risk due to this type of erratic rulemaking.

The penalties for disobeying these new regulations would be license suspensions, fines and even license revocation. While it seems typical of any industry to cry “over-regulation!” — it seems justified in this case. If the goal of these regulations is to restrict the higher levels of potency in the interest of perceived public health, there should at least be some science or deeper rationale behind the limits — whether it is based on the very limited medical data available or on market data that can determine what “high potency cannabis” actually means in modern context.

As someone who cares deeply about the cannabis plant and continuing the good work that has been done in Colorado and elsewhere to unlock its genetic potential, as well as someone who is intimately familiar with the medical efficacy of high-potency flowers, concentrates and edible products made from concentrates, these proposals are abhorrent to the core.

I hope state representatives don’t fall for this thinly-veiled attempt at regulating the Colorado cannabis industry into oblivion, especially since it’s based on rationale that is iffy at best. There are a hundred better ways to approach the lingering questions of the long-term effects of Colorado’s cannabis legalization, and legislators and citizens would be better served using their time for those purposes rather than debating the merits of a duo of harebrained proposals designed to do little more than serve as roadblocks to progress.