Safer weed may require new rules – here’s why

safer weed rules: photos of dry cannabis flowers inside the packaging room

Legalizing weed came with a promise of safer products. The idea was that government oversight would keep cultivation conditions tip-top, and adulterated products wouldn’t break through to retail shelves. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a reality, but some bad news is simply a sign of regulations at work.

Sara Payan is Chair of the Medicinal Use Subcommittee for California, she also hosts a cannabis education podcast. She’s well-versed in the nuance of state-regulated weed and explained more about both sides.

“I believe regulation is key to public safety, and we also need to be cognizant of overregulation. Do we need to have standards and testing? Absolutely. Do we need to treat it as though it’s radioactive? Absolutely not,” Payan said.

Who is regulating cannabis?

Generations of stigmatization translate into many lawmakers and regulators being unfamiliar with the plant. Most individuals hoping to rise up in politics haven’t dabbled in the weed world, especially pre-legalization. Consorting with federally illegal substances doesn’t look good to future employers or voters, after all.

Because of this, those often put in a position to regulate blossoming cannabis industries have no idea where to start. Some who have opted in on Reefer Madness may even fear the plant they’re meant to regulate as if it’s “radioactive.” Cannabis industries in some states are monitored and regulated by the respective Liquor Control Boards.

“Liquor regulators do not understand the nuances of cannabis and generally have an outdated view of cannabis consumers- it’s a lazy approach to regulation based on stigma,” Payan stated. “The agency that regulates cannabis should have educated regulators who can provide a balanced lens and thoughtfully communicate with the industry without stigma or bias and look to be educated and informed.”

The proof is in the pudding. The Washington LCB is responsible for some inane laws that persist a decade after the first legal weed sale.

The Washington state LCB purchase limits read: “Recreational consumers can purchase up to one ounce of useable marijuana (the harvested flowers, or “bud”), 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles in solid form, 72 ounces in liquid form, and 7 grams of marijuana concentrates.”

The way this reads, no matter how much THC or other active compounds are inside the bottle, people can carry up to 72 ounces of infused liquid. A smart dispensary shopper could legally walk out the door with the equivalent of a pound of weed in liquid form. Though it hasn’t been applied in this case, there are ways to update silly regulations.

Working with regulators for safer weed

Kim Stuck has been in the space since working as a Public Health Specialist for Denver Environmental Health at the dawn of adult use. She’s now the CEO and founder of Allay Consulting, a nationwide cannabis and hemp compliance consulting firm. Nonsensical regulations have hit the books in every state in her time. This is due to many being written by those with no knowledge of weed. Luckily, that’s what work groups are for.

“It is becoming more and more a practice to have workgroups that help write regulations that include people from all backgrounds of working with and previously regulating the plant to minimize the amount of regulations that don’t make sense from the beginning,” Stuck said. “The good thing about regulations is that they are not written in stone and can be changed once an issue is realized.”

One place that requires nationwide regulatory focus is the cannabis testing industry. The for-profit sector exists to ensure adult-use and medical cannabis is free of harmful additives like heavy metals, pesticides, mold, and microbial content. They also measure and confirm levels of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds that impact potency, flavor, and more.

Over the years, the need to compete for clients paired with the race to have the highest THC influenced some labs to pad their potency. Bad players were also found to sweep evidence of dangerous compounds like pesticides under the rug. The combination birthed a culture of lab shopping, where cannabis companies would test out labs until they received the results they wanted–true or not.

Bringing opacity to the testing lab

Trent Hancock has been a cannabis cultivator since 1998. He co-founded Creswell Organics with partner Shayney Norick before moving to Montana to consult on cultivation operations in the fledgling weed state. The experience has given him insight into where regulations need help, and he’s set his sights on testing.

“I believe testing is critical to get right and will protect the consumers eventually, but in my opinion, that’s not possible until the compliance labs contract directly through the state,” said Hancock. “Compliance labs should work for consumers, not cannabis businesses.”

Without the urge to compete for cannabis clients, Hancock asserts that public safety issues may resolve themselves.

“All states would need is a software program that tied into their tracking software. It would determine what private lab will test what harvest batches and manufactured products on the retail shelf. That would get everyone in line real fast,” Hancock said.

Even with everyone playing nice, there’s still little known about how inhaling even “green” pesticides like neem oil impacts consumers inhaling them. More research is required to understand the actual risk involved with burning and inhaling pure weed, let alone concentrated neem oils. However, before that can be achieved, the Gordian Knot of current regulations requires untangling. Stuck points to nationwide certifications as a possible fix.

Consumer safety and public health

Licensed operators jump through many hoops before they are permitted to operate, but the Department of Revenue isn’t focused on consumer safety. They are keyed into tracking plants, security, testing, and labeling–not public safety or quality assurance. That’s the job of health departments.

In most states, the Health Department has yet to get involved in the cannabis program and it’s an issue some cannabis operators take into their own hands. For an extra layer of confidence and preparation for future federal oversight, some operators invest in oft-expensive third party certifications, but most states don’t require it.

“There is a serious lack of public health practices being present in the industry,” Stuck said. “The regulations that are in place in most states are better than nothing, but products will be much safer once basic cGMPs are required and regulated properly. If they decide to reschedule THC and other cannabinoids, this will be the case.”

Certifications would also be a major coup for those like Hancock advocating for transparency in cannabis testing. Private certification programs like the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) and the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) are hoping to fill the gap, but labs aren’t required. Also, without one certification required across the country, even certified labs aren’t always on the same page.

Lab shopping is an issue, but state cannabis groups are making moves against bad players. This could be why more recalls are making headlines. And it’s not the only roadblock standing between consumers and truly safe cannabis products.

Safe weed products could be in the future

Hancock is nervous about the rapid growth of cannabis operations and how pesticide and fungicide usage may impact consumers and future generations of plants. He fears issues similar to those facing American food production after decades of monocropping and other commodity-driven practices may soon come for the weed world.

The longtime grower advocates that adopting a local microbrewery or taphouse model in weed will offset the movement toward this bleak premonition.

“Smaller grows are the future, it is far easier to prevent bugs and mold naturally. Mix that with homegrows that are innovative with equipment and genetics; I believe the states that adopt this model will be known for quality. States structured for very large grows will likely never be known for cannabis culture, small businesses, or quality,” Hancock said.

The other experts are just as hopeful for the future while firmly maintaining that there’s work left to be done. At the end of the day, it’s a plant, and maybe it should be regulated like one.

“The industry should be held to the same standards as organic produce and food products. Anything over that is going to cripple industry growth and create more opportunities for the illicit market to flourish,” Payan concluded.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.