State marijuana testing inaccurate, board warns

Alaska’s marijuana regulators are warning that potency labels on marijuana packages may be inaccurate.

In a Tuesday meeting of the Alaska Marijuana Control Board, members were told by the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office that the state’s two certified testing labs do not have standardized procedures and are returning widely varying results.

“The public depends on (us). … they should be able to expect what the actual THC amount is when they consume this,” said board chairman Peter Mlynarik.

AMCO director Erika McConnell and AMCO enforcement supervisor James Hoelscher told board members they purchased two four-gram packages of two different marijuana strains, then submitted one package of each strain to the two different labs operating in Anchorage.

Steep Hill, one of the labs, turned in a result of 16.2 percent THC. Canntest, the other lab, reported 21.73 percent. Both were testing packages of a strain called Eskimo Bubble Gum, bought from the same store in the same lot.

In testing the other strain, Paradise Nebula, Steep Hill reported 12.1 percent THC and Canntest reported 11.28 percent THC, a variation the board found more acceptable. Both testing labs reported the strain contaminated by microbes, and AMCO subsequently issued a stop-sale order for that batch of Paradise Nebula. Previous testing had not found contamination.

“I am really at a loss to explain how we can be almost right on for one test and so far off for the other,” said Brian Coyle, CEO of Steep Hill, to the board.

Some variation is expected: Growers, testing labs and retailers are dealing with an organic plant product, and potency differs between plants and even between different plant parts. The issue, the regulators say, goes beyond that natural variation.

Coyle and Jonathan Rupp, scientific director of Canntest, said the two companies may be interpreting testing results differently, may have different procedures when testing, and may be extracting samples for testing differently.

Mlynarik said that regardless of how the variation happens, it’s not acceptable.

“We’re supposed to be doing this responsibly, and to have that big a gap, I don’t think is responsible,” he said.

In November, the marijuana board created a working group to address differences in testing, but that group is not expected to deliver recommendations to the full board until early in 2018. Mlynarik asked whether the board should suspend all marijuana sales until the testing issue is resolved, but other board members pushed back on that idea.

Brandon Emmett, chairman of the working group, pointed out that no one has died of a marijuana overdose, and the consequences of a mislabeled THC product are minimal.

That may be the case for consumers, but a case decided by the board last week demonstrates that there can be consequences for marijuana manufacturers. In a 4-0 decision handed down Friday, the board voted to revoke the license that allows Frozen Budz of Fairbanks to manufacture edible marijuana products. The board also voted to fine the business $500,000 for repeated violations of state regulations. Among the allegations against the business was a claim that they were producing products with THC content far above that allowed by the state. Those claims were backed by testing results as well as interviews.

Board member Loren Jones of Juneau was in Europe and did not participate in the Tuesday’s meeting.

Audit recommendations

In an unrelated matter, the Alaska Legislature’s audit division has completed the first analysis of the Marijuana Control Board’s actions since its creation in 2015. The audit, released Thursday, found no problems with the board’s activities. According to a survey conducted by auditors, all local governments approved of its work, and 75 percent of licensees said it was effective. The audit does recommend four changes to the operations of AMCO, which supports the board.

The audit recommends the board work with AMCO on a plan to direct its limited enforcement powers. It also recommends the board and AMCO come up with a tracking system for all complaints against licensees, not just those that are investigated. The latter two recommendations involve the expiration dates of marijuana handler cards and how AMCO handles money it remits to local governments.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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