In a few short weeks, the regulations in California’s cannabis market will expand to include more laboratory testing. The previous exemption for selling untested product will be eliminated come July 1st, meaning that every product on dispensary shelves will have to be tested for a number of contaminants.
According to William Waldrop, chief executive officer and co-founder of EVIO Labs, the state is currently finalizing a revision to the existing emergency rules, which is designed to target the potential supply bottleneck situation. “To help alleviate the bottleneck, the state is eliminating the field duplicate test on every batch of cannabis or cannabis products,” says Waldrop. “This will give the labs additional bandwidth to process more batches for testing.” So one test per batch is the rule now and batch sizes will remain the same. This, of course, is contingent on the state finalizing that revision to the emergency regulations.
In addition to that change, the state will expand the types of testing requirements come July 1st. New mandatory pesticide testing, expanded residual solvent testing and foreign materials testing are added in addition to the other tests already required.
With July 1st quickly approaching, many in California fear the rules could lead to a major market disruption, such as the previously mentioned bottleneck. Waldrop sees the elimination of duplicate testing as a preventative measure by the state. “It is a good move for the industry because it allows labs to test more batches, hopefully reducing the bottleneck come July,” says Waldrop. Still though, with only 26 licensed laboratories in the state as of March, testing facilities will have to meet higher demand, performing more tests and working with more clients.
EVIO Labs is preparing for this in a number of ways. They already have a lab in Berkeley and are working to expand their capacity for more analyses. In addition to their lab in Berkeley, the company is working to get three more locations operational as quickly as possible. “Right now, EVIO Labs is expanding through the identification of new market locations,” says Waldrop. “We have announced the acquisition of a facility in Humboldt and we are outfitting it for state-mandated testing. We have secured a location in LA, and licensing for LA just began as of June 1stso we are going through the local licensing process at this time. We are still moving through the licensing process for our facility in Costa Mesa as well.”
“In the meantime, we have expanded capacity of personnel in our Berkeley facility to support our client base until these other locations come online,” says Waldrop. “We are refining our business, bringing on additional equipment and more resources.” While the rules haven’t been implemented yet, Waldrop says he’s seen an uptick in business with licensed operators requesting more testing for the new July 1st standards.
While some might feel a bit panicky about how the new standards could disrupt the market, Waldrop says his clients are looking forward to it. “Our clients are very happy with the proposed new rules, because it reduces the cost of testing per batch, which will inherently reduce wholesale costs, making cannabis more affordable for patients and recreational users.”
California’s regulated adult use cannabis market has been up and running for around four months now and rumors of a potential supply bottleneck on the horizon are beginning to circulate. There are a number of factors that could have an impact on the cannabis supply in the market, most of which stem from changes in the distribution channels now that the state is implementing new regulations.
Those include a slow rollout in licensing cannabis businesses, new testing requirements, the supply carryover period prior to January 1stas well as new labeling and packaging regulations. In this piece, we are going to examine some of those rumors, see if there might be some truth to them and provide some guidance for what businesses can do to prepare for this.
A Slow Start to Licensing
This one is perhaps the most obvious factor to impact the supply chain in California. Much of the delays in licensing cannabis businesses came from the issue of local control, where businesses needed to get approval from their municipality before getting a state license. In the first month of the new market, it took Los Angeles weeks longer than other counties to begin licensing dispensaries. Whereas San Diego retailers saw a massive influx of customers right away, forcing them to buy up product to meet the high demand. Smaller producers also had trouble getting licenses as quickly as some of the larger ones.
Basically it all boils down to a slow start for the new market, according to Diane Czarkowski, co-founder of Canna Advisors. “The state is requiring businesses to get their local licenses before they can get their state license and that will create a delay in operators being able to bring products to market,” says Czarkowski. She says this is pretty typical of new markets, or when a market experiences dramatic changes quickly. “It could be a brand-new market, like in Hawaii, where the operators were ready with product, but there were no labs to test the products, which caused delays.” In addition to the licensing roll out being slow to start, the temporary licenses initially awarded to businesses are set to expire soon, by the end of April.
Stricter Rules to Come
The same logic goes for the testing regulations. New testing and labeling requirements, according to the Bureau of Cannabis Control regulating the market, will be phased in throughout 2018.
The state has already phased in cannabinoids, moisture content, residual solvent, pesticide, microbial impurities and homogeneity testing to some extent. On July 1st, the state will add additional residual solvent and pesticide testing as well as foreign material testing. At the end of 2018, they plan on requiring terpenoids, mycotoxins, heavy metals and water activity testing. All of those tests cost money and all of those tests could impact suppliers’ ability to bring product to market. “Oftentimes regulations require different types of testing to be done to products without recognizing that adequately completing those tests requires different methods, equipment, and standards,” says Czarkowski. “Most labs do not have all of the necessary components, and they are very costly. Producers could wait weeks to get test results back before they know if they can sell their products.”
Back when we spoke with Josh Drayton, deputy director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, about the upcoming changes to the California market, he voiced his concerns with the coming testing rules. “A lot of testing labs are concerned they are unable to test at the state’s threshold for some of these contaminants and pesticides; the detection limits seem very low,” says Drayton. “The testing portion will take years to work out, I am sure we will remove and add different pesticides and contaminants to the list.” California’s testing industry is, however, capable of adapting to changing rules, as they’ve done in the past on more than one occasion. It should be noted that many labs in the state are on the cutting edge of testing cannabis, working with The Bureau to implement the new rules.
Cannabis products made prior to December 31st, 2017, did not need to comply with the stricter testing rules that are coming in the next few months. This carryover period allowed dispensaries to have products on the shelves when the new market launched in the beginning of 2018. Retailers knew this rule meant they needed to stockpile product in the event of a supply bottleneck, and it appears much of that product is now sold and running out, according to Roy Bingham, founder and chief executive officer of BDS Analytics. “The true impact of licenses is starting to be felt since the carryover from December buying prior to the licensed market has been sold,” says Bingham. “Some of the major brands have consciously not applied for licenses. Some of that has to do with the flexibility the government has given them to wait.”
A fourth reason for a potential bottleneck could also come from packaging and labeling rules. “There will have to be many modifications to products to ensure they follow the new potency regulations, and many formulations will have to be modified in order to meet new regulations,” says Czarkowski. Distributor licenses, according to The Bureau, have a number of compliance documentation requirements, such as arranging for all product testing, quality assurance and packaging and label accuracy. Everything has to be packaged before it gets to a dispensary, which is a new rule California businesses need to comply with.
Pricing is the Indicator
There are a handful of reasons why prices could increase; some of them are more defined than others, the biggest factor being the tax burden passed on to consumers, where reports showed up to a 40% increase from last year. A price increase in the future could also come from The Bureau implementing testing regulations throughout 2018, as mentioned previously.
If prices were to surge enormously and very quickly, that might be an indicator that a shortage is fast approaching. A dramatic increase in price over this year could squeeze margins for smaller producers, forcing retailers to pass that burden on to consumers as well.“So yes, the rumors are true.”
According to Roy Bingham, there has been a significant increase in pricing in all categories at the retail level. “In January and February, we are seeing about 10% increases per month in average retail prices,” says Bingham. “If we look at concentrates in California during 2017, they averaged about $34 by the end of the year, whereas it was about $31 at the start of 2017. So in January, prices have increased up to $38, which is a bit above trend, but in fact we were seeing a trend upwards before January 1st as well.” Comparing that with edibles pricing, Bingham says we see a clear jump at the start of 2018. “It was basically flat in 2017, averaging $14 roughly almost straight-line across, dipped in December, then in January it jumped to $17 and then to $18 in February, a big increase and significantly more than concentrates,” says Bingham. He also says flower was hovering around $9 per gram in December 2017, but surged above $10 in February 2018.
According to Cannabis Benchmarks, the California wholesale averages surged in the summer of 2017 up to $1,631 by September, then reached their lowest point in December, with their spot index at $1,368. The Cannabis Benchmarks report underlines some important reasons for the changes in pricing, but they also attribute it to the new licensing system.
“Increasing operating expenses for businesses preparing to enter California’s licensed system in 2018 were key to propping up supply side rates in the first six months of 2017. New compliance requirements were being instituted to varying degrees by local governments, while market participants warily eyed draft regulations from state officials for guidance as to how to prepare their sites and facilities to meet under-construction regulatory mandates.”
Their report highlights some very important aspects of the supply chain. “Again, it is likely that the increased costs faced by operators up and down the supply chain exert some upward pressure on wholesale rates, preventing them from steep year-over-year declines that were observed in some of the other major Western markets,” reads the Cannabis Benchmarks report.
So How Can Businesses Prepare?
Well to start, producers should make sure their operations and product are clean and safe. Making sure your product will pass a pesticide test should be top of mind. Dispensaries should also be wise in selecting their suppliers, performing supplier quality audits or some form of verification that they meet your standards is key in a consistent supply chain.
Dr. Jon Vaught, chief executive officer of Front Range Biosciences, believes tissue culture could be a viable solution for some California producers. Using tissue culture, as a form of propagation instead of mothers and clones can be cleaner, cheaper and more efficient, thus allowing growers to keep up with demand and prevent a shortage.
Dr. Vaught says growers could look to tissue culture as a means to “mitigate risk to their supply chain and mitigate the risk of potential loss and improve their ability to efficiently grow their plant.” Maintaining a disease-free, sterile environment is a huge advantage in the cannabis market. “The real use of tissue culture is to provide disease free, clean, certified material, that has gone through a QA program,” says Dr. Vaught. “In greenhouses, the ability to control your environment is also critical because your margin of error is high. Variations in sunlight, weather, humidity all of these things have an impact in your plants. Technology can help monitor this.”
We’ve covered the basics of tissue culture previously on CIJ, with Dr. Hope Jones chief science officer of C4 Laboratories. She echoes many of Dr. Vaught’s points, firmly believing that, having existed for decades, tissue culture is an effective propagation tool for advanced breeders or growers looking to scale up.It is a complex supply chain that requires systems thinking.
It is important to note they don’t think growers should try this at home. Work with professionals, get the necessary funding, the training and facilities required if this is a project that interest you. “There’s a pretty big barrier to entry there,” Dr. Vaught urges. “The ability to manage thousands or millions of plants in a greenhouse increases risk, whereas in the lab, you’ve got a safe, secure, sterile environment, reducing risk of disease, making things easier to manage. The producers most successful at large scale are controlling those variables to the T.”
Ultimately, one segment of the market can’t prevent a bottleneck. It is a complex supply chain that requires systems thinking. Regulators need to work with producers, manufacturers, retailers, distributors, patients, consumers and laboratories to keep an eye on the overall supply chain flow.
Diane Czarkowski says the California market should prepare for this now if they haven’t already. “We have seen supply issues in every market going through a change. Other potential bottlenecks will occur because former distribution channels will be required to change,” says Czarkowski. “So yes, the rumors are true.”
California’s full legal cannabis market officially opened its doors for business on January 1st, 2018. Following a relatively short time frame when they announced the first licenses awarded less than a month ago, retail stores were open for business in counties throughout California. Customers came out in full force, with long lines on the opening day, with some hundreds deep stretching around blocks.
For the quick turn around time between implementing regulations and awarding temporary licenses, the grand opening of the cannabis market in the nation’s most populous state proceeded smoothly. Only a handful of minor hiccups associated with the launch were reported throughout the state. In the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty good job for a new regulatory agency (The Bureau) tasked with regulating such a massive fledgling market.
One major and definitely foreseeable hiccup in the launch of California’s new medical and adult use markets was the failure to implement tracking software. According to Michael Blood with The Associated Press, licensed businesses are being asked by the California Department of Food and Agriculture to manually document sales and transfers of cannabis with paper invoices.
While the Department said the traceability system was implemented Tuesday, Blood says, cannabis businesses are not required to use it and will be trained on how to operate it before it becomes required to use later in 2018.
Local control regulations in California means that businesses must first seek approval from local authorities before attaining a temporary license from the state to operate. That coupled with the rolling process of awarding licenses meant that only some cannabis businesses could officially open their doors. Municipalities throughout California handle regulating cannabis differently.
Ahead of the state’s implementation of their full adult use legalization in early 2018, California is working on improving their public outreach. Last week, the California Department of Public Health launched “Let’s Talk Cannabis”, a website dedicated to consumer education.
About two weeks ago, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, California’s state regulatory body for the cannabis industry, launched a rebranding effort of their own, with a new logo, website and even an Instagram account. Their “Cannabis Portal” is a website dedicated to helping those in the industry get updated information on licensing, new regulations and other news and events.
The Bureau’s upgraded website will better help business owners stay up-to-date on upcoming regulations and licensing applications, according to a press release. Judging by their Facebook (@bccinfo.dca), Twitter (@bccinfo_dca) and Instagram pages, the regulatory body seeks to have a more public presence online than other states’ regulatory bodies.
The state’s three regulatory bodies are featured on the portal. The Bureau of Cannabis Control is just one regulatory arm of the government, basically responsible for licensing dispensaries, distributors and laboratories. The Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, a division of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), will presumably regulate manufacturers of infused products. CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing is under the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which will oversee regulating growers of medical and adult use cannabis. That regulatory body is also in charge of the state’s seed-to-sale traceability software system.
The Department of Public Health’s “Let’s Talk Cannabis” website is more of a consumer-focused educational tool. It features frequently asked questions, some links to other resources, information on legalization and information for the youth, parents and pregnant and breastfeeding women. That consumer-facing website offers tips for parents on storing cannabis and keeping it out of reach of children, in addition to advice for responsibly consuming cannabis.
It will be interesting to see how they plan on using those social media pages in the future. At first glance, they could be excellent tools for regulators to communicate with licensees, to help explain common regulatory compliance errors or to provide tips and tricks for staying compliant. The consumer-facing portal could also be a great means for communicating product recalls or public health and safety alerts, things that Colorado and Oregon currently struggle with.
In July, we sat down with the folks at Digipath, Inc. when they received their testing license in Nevada for the adult use market. In that conversation, they mentioned they were looking to expand into California.
According to a press release published September 25th, DigiPath, Inc. has entered a joint venture to establish their first cannabis-testing lab in California. They will be working with Don Ashley, an experienced real estate developer and cannabis entrepreneur, to launch Humboldt Botanical, LLC, conducting business under the name “Digipath Botanical Testing”.
Ashley says they expect to be fully operational by Q1 of 2018. “We expect to break ground on this project in the next few weeks and hope to be operational in early Q1 2018 just after the state-wide adult-use market is expected to launch, as we have already obtained approval from the local planning authorities for the entire complex,” says Ashley.
Todd Denkin, president of Digipath, is optimistic for California’s market and the coming regulations. “The state of California is estimated to be the single largest cannabis market in the U.S. Adult-use cannabis legislation was approved by California residents last November, and we expect these new regulations to be implemented in 2018,” says Denkin. “The good news for the industry is that the requirements for cannabis testing will be significant, and we are excited to partner with Don and his team to pursue this opportunity in Humboldt County.”
Ashley is contributing roughly $2 million to build and equip the lab with instrumentation, while Digipath Labs will manage and supervise operations at the lab. According to the press release, Digipath will provide a non-exclusive license to use its intellectual property for the operation of the lab. Digipath Labs will retain rights over all the scientific data generated in the lab.
According to Cindy Orser, PhD., chief science officer at Digipath, that data will be put to good use. “Digipath Labs has developed an algorithm for use in strain authentication based largely on terpene profiling from our testing lab in Nevada and we are eager to further test our hypothesis with an expanded dataset from cannabis grown in Northern California,” says Orser.
While testing labs are primarily seen as safeguards for public health and safety, using data to correctly identify strains is a relatively new concept. “Digipath Labs is all about public health and safety through testing for adulterants,” says Orser. “Another component to quality is having confidence in product authenticity at the dispensary level. Not only is the consumer buying quality assured products but truth in advertising when it comes to strain nomenclature.”
Denkin says they were proactive in working toward getting the license early on. “Our partners have been dealing with the local regulators while we have been providing the proper SOP’s for the local government in order to receive the proper licensure in the area,” says Denkin. Taking their experience from Nevada to California, Orser says they have been asked to present to the California Toxicology Association on their experience with cannabis testing in the highly regulated marketplace of Nevada.
The laboratory in Humboldt is going to be part of a “cannabis industrial park,” alongside an R&D facility, oils/concentrate manufacturing center, health and wellness center, distribution and processing facility, tissue culture nursery, hemp clothing outlet, and coffee bistro, according to the press release.
Looking forward to growing their business, Denkin says they hope to launch a lab in Southern California. “We do expect to have a larger footprint in California because of the size of the market and are looking for locations in Southern California as well,” says Denkin. When asked about any new plans to expand elsewhere, Denkin says they’ll let us know. “We are continuing with our business plan and actively seeking the right mergers and acquisitions. Stay tuned.”
Formerly named the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the Bureau of Marijuana Control is tasked with overseeing the development, implementation and enforcement of the regulations for the state’s cannabis industry. In their statement of reasons for the lab testing regulations, the bureau says they are designed with public health and safety at top of mind. At first glance, much of these laboratory rules seem loosely modeled off of Colorado and Oregon’s already implemented testing regulations.
The regulations lay out requirements for testing cannabis products prior to bringing them to market. That includes testing for residual solvents and processing chemicals, microbiological contaminants, mycotoxins, foreign materials, heavy metals, pesticides, homogeneity as well as potency in quantifying cannabinoids.
The microbiological impurities section lays out some testing requirements designed to prevent food-borne illness. Labs are required to test for E. coli, Salmonella and multiple species of the pathogenic Aspergillus. If a lab detects any of those contaminants, that batch of cannabis or cannabis products would then fail the test and could not be sold to consumers. A lab must report all of that information on a certificate of analysis, according to the text of the regulations.
The proposed regulations stipulate requirements for sampling, including requiring labs to develop sampling plans with standard operating procedures (SOPs) and requiring a lab-approved sampler to follow chain-of-custody protocols. The rules also propose requiring SOPs for analytical methodology. That includes some method development parameters like the list of analytes and applicable matrices. It also says all testing methods need to be validated and labs need to incorporate guidelines from the FDA’s Bacterial Analytical Manual, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and AOAC’s Official Methods of Analysis for Contaminant Testing, or other scientifically valid testing methodology.
Labs will be required to be ISO 17025-accredited in order to perform routine cannabis testing. Laboratories also need to participate in proficiency testing (PT) program “provided by an ISO 17043 accredited proficiency-test provider.” If a laboratory fails to participate in the PT program or fails to pass to receive a passing grade, that lab may be subject to disciplinary action against the lab’s license. Labs need to have corrective action plans in place if they fail to get a passing grade for any portion of the PT program.
Last week, Governor Brown’s Administration released a set of proposed rules for the medical cannabis, attempting to provide some oversight to the once unregulated market. In 2015, the governor signed three bills into law that established a regulatory framework via the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. That legislation set up the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation inside the Department of Consumer Affairs as the overseeing regulatory agency.
According to the press release, the proposed regulations for manufacturing and cultivation have also been published. “The proposed licensing regulations for medical cannabis are the result of countless hours of research, stakeholder outreach, informational sessions and pre-regulatory meetings all across the state,” says Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation. “And while we have done quite a bit of work and heard from thousands of people, there is still so much more to do. In order to make our program successful we still need your feedback.”
According to their website, the legislation divides responsibility for licensing businesses between three regulatory bodies: The CA Department of Food and Agriculture the CA Department of Public Health and the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, which will be the leading body in charge of licensing. The proposed regulations are not set in stone, but give us an important glimpse into how the state hopes to regulate the market.
Among the proposed rules are a number of regulatory compliance nuances expected to raise prices, but provide extra measures to protect consumer safety. According to the SF Gate, regulators expect prices could climb $524 per pound. But with that price jump comes a lot of regulations that other states have so far successfully implemented. The laboratory testing and traceability stipulations are presumably designed to safeguard public health, preventing things like black market diversion and off-label pesticide use.
In addition to the medical regulations, the proposed manufacturing regulations set some notable requirements. Those rules are set by the Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety, established in the Center for Environmental Health of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) after the 2015 legislation was signed into law. Good Manufacturing Practices, food product standards, operational and labeling requirements are included in the provisions, along with a list of licensing tiers, application requirements and fees. They have a handy summary of the proposed regulations for those looking for the key highlights.
Omar Figueroa, an attorney with a cannabis law practice in California, says his clients in the industry are preparing to suggest changes to the proposed regulations and possibly legal challenges. “They are looking at this as overregulation by people that are not in the cannabis industry,” says Figueroa. “These are outsiders with a limited knowledge base creating somewhat uninformed regulations.” He says a good example of this is the potency limit on infused products. “They make perfect sense for [the recreational market] but for the medical market it is simply unacceptable. Patients develop a tolerance to THC and would have to increase their caloric intake and buy more infused products if this proposed regulation becomes final.” He says there are a number of regulations that seem kind of arbitrary. “Like prohibiting cannabis-infused caffeine products; there doesn’t seem to be a necessity in the rulemaking for this,” says Figueroa. “A lot of these regulations are going to be susceptible to challenges because California requires regulations to be necessary and alternatives to be considered.”
Although the lab testing regulations won’t be published for another few days, Figueroa expects them to be a huge disruptor for the market. “Most labs in the state are not ISO 17025-accredited, which means many labs might not be able to issue certificates of analysis when the regulations get enforced,” says Figueroa. He says it is safe to say California regulators are looking at other jurisdictions, like Colorado and Oregon for example, in crafting these rules, but we can expect a sea change in these regulations before they get enforced.
Manufacturers will be required to use a cannabis product symbol with a ‘THC!’ marking on their labels. There is also a 100-milligrams-per-package limit for THC in infused products, which is similar to rules we saw Colorado and Oregon roll out during a preliminary period of legal recreational cannabis.
For those looking to get involved in the regulatory process, there is a 45-day comment period on the proposed rules.
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