Pubdate: Tue, 20 Aug 2013
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Ana Campoy


States Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Wrestle With Best Way to Test

Under Colorado's new recreational-marijuana law, all retail pot
products-from joints to laced brownies-will have to be labeled
according to their potency starting next January.

But pot growers are running into a hurdle: There are no state or
industry standards to test marijuana for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC,
the substance mainly responsible for its high-inducing properties.

The labels are intended to inform consumers on the nature of the
product they are buying, not unlike alcohol-content labels on beer or
wine. But current test results are haphazard, owners of
medical-marijuana dispensaries complain, with the same marijuana
receiving different marks depending on where it was analyzed.

Laboratory owners acknowledge results vary due to differing
methodologies and advise growers not to compare ratings from different

"The standard margin of error is like 25%," said Evan Anderson, who
has used several labs to test the medical marijuana he sells at his
Boulder, Colo., dispensary, 14er Holistics. "That's unacceptable in
any kind of scientific setting."

The uncertain testing standards underscore the challenge facing
Colorado as well as Washington, where voters also approved
recreational marijuana for anyone 21 and over last year, as state
officials race to develop regulations to police a complicated new
legal pot industry that is the first of its kind in the U.S. The
states are operating under a legal cloud because the measures flout
federal law prohibiting sale and possession of the substance.

For now, all state officials have to go on are the existing laws and
standards that govern medical marijuana, which is legal in 20 states
including Colorado and Washington, as well as in the District of Columbia.

But officials in both states have to develop frameworks before
recreational-pot entrepreneurs can begin applying for the necessary
licenses this fall and begin selling to customers in January.

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue said officials
are still crafting testing rules. Beginning Tuesday, the agency will
be holding public hearings to discuss specific proposals that include
everything from lab-technician qualifications to how to dispose of
tested samples.

Uwe Christians, who serves on a government-assembled working group on
testing regulations, said cannabis labs should produce accurate
results if the proposed rules are adopted.

It can take six to nine months to set up a reliable lab, according to
Mr. Christians, who runs a drug-testing lab at the University of
Colorado, Denver.

"Writing good standard operating procedures is very, very
time-consuming," he said.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board, which regulates marijuana,
was scheduled last week to adopt rules for the recreational-marijuana
industry, including how labs should be run, but pushed back its
timeline to October to incorporate public input.

Brian Smith, a spokesman for the agency, said the rule-making process
shouldn't delay labs from setting up. "Our requirements are basic,
which most any lab should already be following," he said.

Sorting out testing is particularly difficult because there is little
academic or commercial research, given that marijuana remains illegal
under federal law. Even labs with government permission to study
cannabis are forbidden to work with samples from states that have
legalized pot such as Colorado and Washington, said Mahmoud ElSohly,
who runs one such outfit at the University of Mississippi.

So, commercial pot labs have cobbled together their own system based
on techniques and methods developed by Mr. ElSohly's lab and others to
chemically analyze marijuana seized by law enforcement, or to test
other herbs such as St. John's wort or chamomile. Testing a sample
usually runs at about $50.

"Every lab at this point has a 'six months in the garage' story," said
Ian Barringer, owner of Rm3 Labs in Boulder, Colo., referring to
months of effort spent refining methods. Mr. Barringer, who warns
clients via his website that results aren't comparable with those of
other labs, said the only way to standardize testing is to do more of
it, which won't happen until labeling requirements kick in.

Klaas Hesselink, owner of Cannatest on Washington's Bainbridge Island,
got into the testing industry because as a chef, he was having trouble
baking consistent marijuana-infused brownies for medicinal use.

He said he is now happy with testing protocol he found in his native
Netherlands after coming up empty-handed in his U.S. search. But he
added that to ensure industrywide accuracy, cannabis labs need
third-party supervision.

Colorado and Washington will require lab certification.

"It's the wild world of testing," Mr. Hesselink said. "Without
oversight, who's going to do everything the right way?"

The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, a Scotts Valley, Calif., nonprofit
that creates guidelines for herbal testing for products used in
dietary supplements and teas, is working on a set of standards for
cannabis cited as a reference in Washington's proposed rules. Roy
Upton, the group's executive director, said he hoped it could help
laboratory results become comparable.

Mr. Anderson, the Boulder dispensary owner, said he would do the
required testing, but is also sticking with the only method that has
rendered accurate results so far: Smoking his pot himself.

"The personal tests are far more valuable in selling the product than
anything that we've gotten from the lab," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Matt