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 or call 523-2258.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 6

Here’s what to expect this week.

Disney Williams (right) orders coffee from Lorelai Bingham from the Flying Squirrel coffee stand at Juneau International Airport on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
New coffee stand at airport stirs up heated dispute about having proper authorization to operate

Fans of Flying Squirrel Espresso praise location, hours; officials say FAA violations could be costly.

Nano Brooks and Emily Mesch file for candidacy on Friday at the City and Borough of Juneau Municipal Clerk’s office in City Hall. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
City and Borough of Juneau regular municipal election candidate filing period opens

So far, most vie for Assembly District 2 seat — mayor, Board of Education, and District 1 also open.

Killah Priest performs at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center in December 2019. (Photo courtesy of Lance Mitchell)
Killah Priest sets new record with Alaskan artists on ‘Killah Borealis’

Wu-Tang Clan rapper seeks to lift Alaskan voices and culture in his return performance to Juneau

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, July 10, 2024

For Wednesday, July 10 Attempt to Serve At 10:06 a.m. on Wednesday,… Continue reading

Commercial fishing boats are lined up at the dock at Seward’s harbor on June 22. Federal grants totaling a bit over $5 million have been awarded to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to help Alaskans sell more fish to more diverse groups of consumers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Federal grants to state agency aim to expand markets for Alaska seafood

More than $5M to help ASMI comes after Gov. Dunleavy vetoed $10M for agency.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds up the omnibus crime bill, House Bill 66, after signing it at a ceremony Thursday at the Department of Public Safety’s aircraft hangar at Lake Hood in Anchorage. At his side are Sandy Snodgrass, whose 22-year-old son died in 2021 from a fentanyl overdose, and Angela Harris, who was stabbed in 2022 by a mentally disturbed man at the public library in Anchorage and injured so badly that she now uses a wheelchair. Snodgrass and Harris advocated for provisions in the bill.Behind them are legislators, law enforcement officers and others. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Goals for new Alaska crime law range from harsher penalties for drug dealers to reducing recidivism

Some celebrate major progress on state’s thorniest crime issues while others criticize the methods.

Juneau Board of Education President Deedie Sorensen (left) and Vice President Emil Mackey, holding his son Emil Mackey IV, listen to discussion about next year’s budget for the school district during a meeting March 14 at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé. Recall votes for both board members were certified this week for the Oct. 1 municipal election ballot. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Petitions to recall two Juneau school board leaders get enough signatures for Oct. 1 election ballot

President Deedie Sorensen, Vice President Emil Mackey targeted due to school district’s budget crisis.

Most Read