Last November saw the largest cannabis product recall in Michigan's recreational cannabis market so far. Nearly 64,000 lbs of product was recalled after questionable testing methods and contamination came to light at two Viridis Labs facilities located in Bay City and Lansing. A judge ultimately reversed this decision for the Bay City location, but, according to an investigation by MLive, this was not because the products passed muster; Rather, the judge found that because the audit of samples by the state only pertained to the Lansing lab, the recall for product tested in Bay City wasn’t justified.
According to MLive, this reversal allowed at least 36 lbs of bulk cannabis that failed testing back onto retailer shelves and into consumers' lungs. In court documents attempting to uphold both recalls, the CRA alleged that 26% of marijuana from the Bay City Viridis lab had subsequently failed retesting after being permitted back on the market.
This is not a new issue. Michigan has consistently suffered from a lack of clarity regarding the products on dispensary shelves. Despite legalizing medical cannabis in 2008, the first state licensed and regulated medical dispensary did not open until nearly a full decade after MI voters took to the polls in 2008. This means that prior to that, all products were tested entirely at the discretion of the producers or dispensaries, with no standardization or best practices, and without any regulatory oversight.
After the 2018 medical marijuana commercial facility regulations, and subsequent recreational legalization that December, matters have only improved somewhat. New directions from CRA regarding testing are outlined in the Michigan Administrative Rules concerning cannabis businesses (R 420). However, while these directions are heavy on instructions regarding how samples are to be collected, they are rather vague when it comes to details regarding the actual testing processes, stating simply that:
“The laboratory shall develop a statistically valid sampling method and have it approved by the agency to collect a representative sample from each batch of marihuana product. The laboratory shall have access to the entire batch for the purposes of sampling.” R 420.304(2)(f)
One does not have to look far to see the consequences of such poorly defined policies: CRA regulators issuing large recalls without explanation, and Results from lab proficiency audits kept secret. With such consistent problems with testing, it is no wonder that Michigan dispensary operators and customers are questioning the testing system’s integrity.
As the industry regulator, it is the CRA’s responsibility to define best practices for labs and set industry testing standards. They owe it to Michigan cannabis consumers to set clear expectations for labs so that people can all feel safe about the products that make it on the shelves.