There are no accredited, licensed testing labs in Santa Barbara County, and there probably won't be until laws become easier to navigate, according to local government officials.
The county hopes to find out within the next six weeks or so whether or not testing labs will be approved by the Board of Supervisors for construction in the area, according to Deputy County Executive Officer Dennis Bozanich.
"We're hoping that by February, we'll know whether or not testing labs will be one of the license types that'll be allowed in the county, and where it'd be permitted to occur," Bozanich said.
One of the concerns of the cannabis marketplace is the cannabis supply chain, meaning that local jurisdictions are waiting to see what the cannabis market is going to want to do as far as providing testing labs, according to Bozanich.
"It really depends on the cannabis marketplace to build what they need in order to be an effective business," he added.
The cannabis supply chain involves a cultivator, who sends pot to a distributor, who sends a sample to a lab, which sends back test results, Bozanich said. Then, the distributor will sell the product to a retail outlet, either a delivery service or a storefront.
"The distributor plays a key role in helping local jurisdictions determine where there'll be a need for testing labs," he added. "You want to have both a distributor and testing lab in close proximity where a large group of cultivators are to expedite their pot products into the market."
For the time being, however, growers will have to get their pot tested outside the area, Bozanich said.
"Until we have local labs built here, people will probably have to send some stuff out to either Monterey or closer down to Los Angeles," Bozanich said. "This is still one of the newer components of the supply chain for the cannabis industry, and the one that's the least well-developed right now."
While Bozanich said he doesn't know what the future holds for local testing labs, he acknowledged that engaging in a legal cannabis marketplace requires an independent quality control function to ensure public protection.
"This is a public safety issue, so I think testing labs are essential to the cannabis supply chain from that public safety perspective," Bozanich said.
While there have been people interested in applying for lab testing licenses, Bozanich said the county hasn't had anyone actually apply for one, most likely because the county has been very public about the fact that right now it's only issuing temporary licenses for medical cannabis cultivators.
"I anticipate in the future someone will want to engage in that business if there's enough critical mass of cultivators in this area," he added. "Maybe someone will get tired of shipping stuff out of this county and seek a testing lab license if the county allows it, but the market itself will figure that out."
Testing around the state
As new laws kick in Jan. 1, existing marijuana inventory won't be subject to track-and-trace protocol or stringent labeling requirements for six months while the state works to carefully phase in stricter rules and requirements, according to attorney Christoff Hickok, of Southern California's Shevin Law Group.
But cannabis products manufactured on or after Jan. 1 must meet product standards and THC limits, and those produced before Jan. 1 must be labeled as “not tested.”
California Department of Public Health and Bureau of Cannabis Control officials have said they have plans to employ a scientific evaluation team to conduct regular compliance checks at manufacturing and testing facilities throughout the state, as part of their commitment to public health.
State regulations will require that no cannabis product contain pesticides, mold or other contaminants and that no manufactured cannabis product can be sold if it fails to meet testing requirements.
All manufactured products must also be tested for cannabinoids and labeled with the amount of THC and/or CBD (cannabidiol) per package — edible products must include the amount of THC/CBD per serving.
Other contaminants testing labs look for in marijuana are chemical residual solvents left from pesticides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, micotoxyns, terpenoids, carcinogen, yeast, e-coli and other coliform bacteria.
Because marijuana is categorized at the federal level as a Schedule 1 illegal drug, the standards were set at the state level, instead, following models set forth by other states that have legalized marijuana including Washington, Colorado and Oregon.
“We worked on testing regulations with the Department of Pesticide Regulation and we also looked at what other states did in their regulations prior to legalization,” said Alex Traverso, chief of communications at the Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Non-edible products that don’t meet safety requirements after the first test must be retested and successfully pass.
“A harvest batch or cannabis product batch may only be remediated twice,” said Traverso. “If the batch fails after the second remediation attempt and second retesting, the entire batch cannot be released for retail sale.”