Legalization of Cannabis for Recreational Use: Impact on Testing Laboratories

Cannabis Lab Testing Software - Recreational Cannabis Legalization
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Cannabis laws around the globe have shifted significantly in the last decade, paving the way for a legal and regulated cannabis market. Canada, Uruguay, and several states in the US have so far legalized cannabis for recreational use. In the 2022 midterm election, the states of Missouri and Maryland became the 20th and 21st states to legalize cannabis in the US. Arkansas, North, and South Dakota also had marijuana on the midterm elections ballot but the proposals were rejected by the voters. Germany also made significant strides towards legalizing weed in 2022; if the plans are concluded, Germany will become the first country in Europe to legalize marijuana.

It seems like countries are now beginning to appreciate the benefits of having a legal and regulated recreational cannabis industry. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cannabis is the most abused and trafficked illicit drug in the world and accounts for over 50% of all drug seizures globally. Legalizing adult-use cannabis is the only effective way to kill the illicit cannabis market which was valued at $100 billion in the US alone in 2022. However, it is expected that this figure will dwindle as more states move to legalize cannabis.

Legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes presents economic benefits in the form of tax revenues. In 2021, about $3.7 billion was collected from legal cannabis sales, this was double the amount collected in 2019. A legal cannabis market also provides a source of income for marijuana businesses as well as creates multiple job opportunities.

Why is the Demand For Cannabis Testing Increasing?

Cannabis testing is carried out by laboratories that are licensed to perform this role. Such laboratories must meet specific criteria that allow them to handle all the necessary requirements for cannabis testing including compliance with the different state regulations. Cannabis testing laboratories have been forced to scale up their operations to meet the increased testing demands in terms of both quantities and specific requirements.

All states with a legal marijuana program require that cannabis products be tested for purity and potency, even though the specific requirements may vary from one state to another. For example, testing requirements in Colorado are set by the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) and all cannabis products must be tested for the following:

  • Cannabinoids: THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabidiol), CBD (cannabidiol), THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), and CBN (cannabinol)
  • Residual solvents: butane, heptane, and other solvents used during the extraction process that could be harmful to the consumer
  • Microbiological contaminants: Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Salmonella (Sal), and yeast and mold
  • Heavy metals: lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury

Some states also require that the shelf life of a product be tested and verified. This will vary depending on how the product has been processed and the ingredients that have been used in the product. Testing cannabis products guarantees purity and potency and helps consumers differentiate between reputable and disreputable cannabis brands.  

How Does Cannabis Lab Testing Software Support the Increased Demand for Cannabis Lab Testing?

A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) helps laboratories to keep up with the high sample throughput and stringent regulatory requirements that come with cannabis testing. A cannabis lab testing software helps laboratories to automate the following functions:

  • Logging in of samples and assigning barcodes to prevent sample mix-ups
  • Maintaining a complete chain-of-custody to track samples from acquisition to disposal
  • Integrating with various laboratory instruments and software systems for centralized data management and workflow automation
  • Managing data and preventing unauthorized access 
  • Creating and sharing COAs with relevant parties
  • Maintaining a defensible audit trail of all samples and test results

Automation increases the output of cannabis testing laboratories while at the same time, it reduces errors and supports compliance with regulatory requirements. It provides a framework to enable informed decision-making that’s ultimately geared toward credibility and profitability. 

Considerations When Choosing a Cannabis Lab Testing Software 

Not every cannabis lab testing software is created equal, hence there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when selecting a cannabis lab testing software to support cannabis testing. It’s advisable to take your time as you compare different options in the market and find one that not only suits your budget but also meets the specific needs of your laboratory.

ISO/IEC 17025 Compliance

ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation certifies that cannabis testing laboratories meet certain standards of quality related to sample testing. A cannabis lab testing software should support all processes that are involved in ISO 17025 compliance.

Features of a Cannabis Lab Testing Software

Scrutinize features of each cannabis lab testing software and discover how well they tie in with your laboratory’s workflows. How well does the cannabis lab testing software support the basic functions in cannabis testing, such as sample management, instrument integration, test result import, the generation of CoAs and other reports? Can a cannabis LIMS handle your laboratory’s sample volumes and meet the required turnaround time even at peak seasons? Move from the basics and compare specific features such as configurability and customization options.

Seed-to-Sale Software Compatibility

Seed-to-Sale software has been adopted by most states to monitor the movement of legal cannabis products from seed-to-sale. Seed-to-sale tracking being a regulatory requirement, it is important to ensure that the cannabis lab testing software you choose is compatible with such state tracking systems such as Metrc, BioTrack, and Leaf.

Why a Cloud-Hosted Cannabis Lab Testing Software?

A cloud-hosted cannabis lab testing software solution offers several benefits for cannabis testing. Cloud hosting provides economies of scale, thereby reducing capital costs for laboratories. It also supports automatic data backups at various remote locations, hence minimizing the risk of data loss. Lastly, cloud hosting supports remote access to data from any location and at any time. This reduces TAT and improves the productivity of  laboratories. 

Ultimately, you want a cannabis lab testing software that’s easy to deploy and configure and one that comprehensively supports your laboratory functions. An appropriate LIMS will support your laboratory’s transition from manual processes to an automated system with the maximum ease and efficiency.

Cannabis Testing – A Driver for the Growth of the Recreational Cannabis Market

In spite of the strides made towards legalizing cannabis globally, the illicit cannabis market is still rife. The safety and quality of cannabis products is what differentiates the illicit market from the legal and regulated cannabis industry. While cannabis products in the illicit market are bound to be cheaper and easily accessible, the quality is hardly verifiable and may compromise consumer safety. For example, the 2019 vaping crisis which resulted in about 2,800 EVALI hospitalizations and 68 deaths was linked to vitamin E acetate found in contaminated vapes, most likely from the illicit market. 

The quality, potency, and safety of cannabis products can only be ascertained through verifiable COAs. Rigorous and transparent testing is hence bound to be a key driver for the exponential growth of the regulated recreational cannabis industry.

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