In 2019, cannabis-related media headlines were dominated by the public health crisis surrounding vaping and other electronic smoking devices. In a majority of the reported incidents, the products were unlawful or counterfeit and purchased from illegal operators. Although many counterfeit products may look like their legal, regulated counterparts, some hold a dark secret — dangerous contaminants — as well as significant differences in product purity and potency. With public concern mounting, what can customers do to help ensure the canna products — vaping or other — they purchase are safe and reputable?
They can start by being proactive consumers — asking the right questions and always shopping at licensed dispensaries.
While it’s important to note that there is no full-proof method to guarantee that any product is safe, legal cannabis products undergo strict testing and licensing to ensure they meet industry purity and quality standards. In California, for example, licensed cannabis products must pass safety testing for more than 60 different types of pesticides, chemicals, and harmful fungi. With these factors in mind, consumers should consider the following quality assurance questions:
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What does the packaging look like?
Has the package been tampered with? Is it child-resistant? Tamper evident packaging means that the consumers are able to identify if a product has been opened or used. For example, this may include stickers across the lid that will tear once the jar is opened, plastic seals, a jar with a lid that may pop up after opening, and more. Rule of thumb: if a product appears to be tampered with, do not purchase it.
In addition, all cannabis products must have child-resistant packaging (CRP), either initial CRP, which is not child-resistant after opening, or lifetime CRP, which remains child resistant throughout the lifetime of the package. Flower and flower-only pre-rolls, inhaled concentrates, topicals and single-serving cannabis products will have initial CRP. Edibles, orally-consumed concentrates, and suppositories will have lifetime CRP.
Does the product have a label?
Legal THC-based products will have manufacturer information on the label. In California, cannabis product labels are made up of the primary panel, which is the part of the label displayed to consumers at retail (usually on the front or top of the package), and the information label, which is any part of the label that is not the primary panel.
The primary panel will include:
- Product identity
- Net weight
- Universal symbol
The information label will include:
- Unique tracking number (UID number) issued through the state’s track and trace system
- Manufacturer’s name and contact information
- Date of manufacturing/packaging
- Government warning statement for cannabis products
- Batch or lot number
- Instructions for use
- Ingredients (if applicable)
- Allergens, artificial food colorings, and use-by or best-by date (if applicable)
Edible product labels will also say “cannabis-infused” and will list the sodium, carbohydrates and fat per serving. Flower product labels will also list the total cannabinoids, the measure of cannabinoid resin content in the plant material. Some brands are incorporating a QR code into their packaging that consumers can scan for information regarding tracking, testing, ingredients, and more.
To increase transparency within the industry, some companies have launched their own authenticity systems to identify cannabis products. Recently, solo sciences launched solo*, the world’s first cryptographically-secure cannabis product authentication system. Using a free mobile app to decipher uniquely encoded labels, solo* allows distributors to verify the origin of their merchandise and consumers to verify the authenticity of their cannabis products.
Has this product been tested? Are the results available?
An important question to ask the budtender at your local licensed dispensary is whether a product has been thoroughly tested or graded by a reputable laboratory and licensed distribution company. Budtenders have every product’s certificate of analysis (COA) and testing information on hand within the retail location and the information is readily accessible to staff, consumers, and the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control should they request it.
However, buyer beware, some illicit operators may go so far as to make fraudulent lab testing claims and include a photoshopped COAs. For this reason, it’s important to rely on multiple factors to determine product legitimacy and purity.
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Is the dispensary’s license number visible in the retail location?
It’s important to only shop at licensed dispensaries that thoroughly screen their products. All legal retailers will have their license number and dispensary permit displayed in the store to validate that it is a state-licensed distributor.
Is this product tracked from seed to sale?
In certain states, the movement of legalized cannabis or cannabis products must be tracked through every step of the commercial supply chain, from seed to sale. In California, the state requires that licensed cannabis-based businesses comply with the METRC (Marijuana Enforcement, Tracking, Reporting, and Compliance) software program. Having a track and trace system in place increases accountability, helps ensure the product is not compromised at any stage of the process and furthers anti-contamination, quality assurance, and safety efforts.
With safety concerns surrounding products within the industry on the rise due to contaminated and counterfeit products, the industry as a whole must work together to dissipate negative stigmas and further efforts to meet safety, quality and purity standards. Retailers must dedicate more resources to selecting inventory and ensuring only compliant companies are used that test their products in reputable labs. In addition, consumers should do their part by only shopping at licensed distributors, communicating with budtenders and being selective in their purchases — when in doubt, pass on buying that item. Although licensed products may carry a higher price tag than their illicit counterparts, in the end, it is worth it to have safe, high-quality, and pure cannabis.
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