New cannabis technologies have the potential to transform the industry as advanced cultivation techniques and testing practices improve.
New cannabis technologies, including quality control and contamination testing along with other health and safety practices, are key to building and maintaining consumer trust in the legal cannabis industry.
Over the past several years, cannabis consumers have increasingly transitioned from the black market to legally regulated cannabis. Legal cannabis shops and delivery services offer greater convenience, a safer consumer experience and superior products. The biggest reason consumers in legal jurisdictions are leaving the black market, however, is the reasonable assurance that the products they are buying are clean, consistent and free of toxic pesticides, mold, heavy metals and worse. As breakthrough cannabis technologies continue to establish new cultivation techniques and testing practices, end-users stand to benefit from the improvements in product offerings.
When the black market was the only option to buy cannabis, many illicit growers looked to maximize their production by using substances that were not safe for human consumption. One study by the Integral Ecology Research Center found “highly deadly toxic chemicals” in 89 percent of samples collected from illicit grows in California.
The main difference between black-market growers and legal cannabis producers is accountability. In order for the legal cannabis industry to effectively stamp out the black market, the regulated market needs to be meticulous in ensuring that the product maintains a consistency beyond reproach. Improvements in cannabis technologies including cultivation and testing have the potential to ensure this consistency. The differences in health, safety and quality control conducted by a licensed producer are considerable when compared to an illicit operation. Following legalization, the close scrutiny provided by government regulatory bodies has helped to ensure legal cannabis remains safe and consistent. In turn, cannabis consumers have gained the reasonable assurance that the cannabis products they consume are safe.
Although many of the practices used by licensed cannabis producers fall under “organic” agriculture, the definition of the term varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Different governments and regulatory bodies have varying definitions of what qualifies as organic and take those stipulations seriously when determining who can use that label. Australia, for example, does not allow growers that use various vertical farming techniques like hydroponics to call their product organic. Australian growers can avoid using any inorganic substances on their plants; however, in order to be called organic, the product must be grown in soil.
Clean cannabis technology
The backbone of accountability in the legal cannabis industry is the regulatory body that sets up and enforces regulatory standards for cannabis production. In Canada, Health Canada subjects cannabis producers to a comprehensive set of Good Production Practices. In Australia, medical cannabis regulations are set out by the Office of Drug Control. In the US, states like California control these regulations through the Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Failure to meet quality standards for clean cannabis can have huge ramifications for a cannabis producer. With supply chains as complex as they are, not even major producers are immune to risk. In February 2017, major Canadian cannabis producer Organigram (NASDAQ:OGI,TSX:OGI) went into crisis mode when it was discovered that banned pesticides had made it into some of the company’s product somewhere along the supply chain. The company has managed to weather the resulting public relations fallout and its stock has since recovered, but the process involved Organigram issuing $2.26 million in refunds while taking a significant hit to the company’s reputation. Such an incident could easily be the end of a smaller cannabis company, and repeated failures have the potential to bring down a major.
Cannabis technology improving compliance
When the stakes are so high, it’s no surprise that cannabis companies are going to extreme lengths to avoid contamination. Asterion Cannabis, for example, plans to take extreme sanitation measures to ensure that pathogens, molds and mildews do not enter the production cycle. All employees at Asterion’s cultivation and production facilities are expected to wear clothing and personal protective equipment that is specially designed for their roles, reducing the likelihood pathogens transfer to the plants at any stage of their lifecycle.
Due to the highly specialized equipment and training involved, employee security access will be limited to each employee’s specific workspace only. To avoid airborne contaminants, flowering, trimming, harvesting and drying rooms are pressurized so that only filtered air can enter and ventilation is properly maintained. Complex filtration systems will be put in place to eliminate any airborne metals, pathogens, pollens and molds. After each flowering and harvest, the facilities will be thoroughly cleaned, dried and sanitized with fogging systems and ozone to abate any lingering pathogens and volatile organic compounds.
While regulators have made very clear that toxic pesticides have no place in the legal cannabis industry, cannabis producers still need to protect their product from pests and disease. This need is fueling the rise of non-toxic biopesticides derived from natural sources. So far, a number of legal cannabis jurisdictions have decided on acceptable biopesticides for cannabis cultivation. Canadian agricultural biotech company MustGrow Biologics is attempting to use the natural defense mechanisms of brassica plants as a biopesticide in the cannabis and agrifood spaces.
Even with all the precautions in the world, legal cannabis products must stand up to scrutiny before they can be sold. This is where lab testing comes in. Qualified testing labs are validated by regulatory authorities like Health Canada to certify cannabis is clean and safe to sell. These labs utilize a range of tests such as microbial testing, liquid chromatography and atomic absorption spectroscopy to detect the presence of banned pesticides, heavy metals, E. coli, molds and more. Some larger producers even have their own in-house certified test labs, while others utilize third-party lab testing services.
The greatest advantage the legal cannabis market has over black market cannabis is consumer trust. Legal cannabis consumers have the guarantee that the product they are buying stands up to even the most stringent health and safety standards. In order to maintain this advantage, cannabis companies need to be diligent through unwavering adherence to the exclusive use of safe, non-toxic chemicals, and absolute adherence to anti-contamination procedure.