Michigan's Marijuana Industry Grapples with Potency Testing Integrity

February 1st, 2024 Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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In Michigan's bustling marijuana industry, the quest for higher THC potency has not only influenced consumer preferences but also raised concerns about the integrity of potency testing. Industry insiders and regulators have voiced worries about the potential manipulation of THC test results, which are pivotal in determining the price and profitability of marijuana products across the state.

The significance of THC potency in setting prices has led to suspicions of unethical practices among some testing labs and marijuana producers. Allegations suggest a "pay-to-play" scheme, where higher potency figures are reported in exchange for financial benefits, disadvantaging labs committed to accurate testing.

Ben Rosman, co-founder and CEO of PSI Labs in Ann Arbor, one of Michigan's first licensed marijuana safety testing facilities, observed firsthand how prioritizing accuracy in test results could negatively impact business. PSI Labs, known for its commitment to reliable data, ultimately closed its doors after eight and a half years, underscoring the challenging dynamics between accuracy and market demands.

The phenomenon of "lab shopping," where producers seek out labs that report higher THC levels to remain competitive, highlights a systemic issue within the industry. Despite the common knowledge among budtenders and retailers that THC potency is not the sole indicator of marijuana's effects, consumer behavior indicates a strong preference for higher potency products. This trend has led to an increase in strains boasting THC levels above 28%, while those with lower potency struggle to find a place in the market.

David Egerton, laboratory manager at Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs in Jackson, Michigan, has encountered direct requests from customers seeking inflated potency results, emphasizing the pressure labs face to retain clients by bending the rules.

The closure of PSI Labs and the challenges it faced in maintaining a commitment to accurate testing reflect a broader issue within the cannabis industry: the cycle of potency inflation. This cycle perpetuates the demand for higher THC levels, encouraging producers to seek out labs that will report such results, ultimately compromising the integrity of the testing process.

A study examining THC potency accuracy in Colorado's marijuana market revealed that a significant portion of tested samples had potency levels more than 15% lower than stated on packaging, suggesting that potency inflation may be a widespread problem in the U.S. cannabis industry.

In Michigan, the Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) has taken steps to address concerns about THC potency testing, particularly focusing on the practices of Viridis Laboratories. The CRA's investigations and ongoing legal battles with Viridis highlight the complexities of standardizing testing methods and ensuring accurate results.

The CRA plans to open a state-run lab by the end of 2024, aiming to audit private lab results and contribute to the development of standardized testing procedures. However, achieving lasting change in the industry may require more than regulatory oversight and the establishment of reference labs. Stakeholders like Rosman believe that legal actions, similar to lawsuits filed in California over potency inflation, might be necessary to prompt significant reforms.

As Michigan's marijuana market continues to evolve, the challenges surrounding THC potency testing underscore the need for a balanced approach that ensures consumer safety and confidence while fostering a competitive and ethical industry.

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