After recreational sales have kicked off, the cannabis industry faces testing cannabis
As patients and customers who use adults to battle for position in the long lines outside of cannabis dispensaries across the state, pharmacy owners and testing labs struggle to adjust to the new realities of a market where the customer base has grown massively overnight .
The early, surprising introduction of adult recreational marijuana sales has resonated across the industry, creating massive crowds and threats of product shortages and higher prices as a potentially $ 1 billion industry seeks balance .
Uncertainty has plagued the testing aspect as the new reality of the marketplace has led to a wild west interpretation of the rules set last year that threatens the viability of laboratories that have invested millions of dollars in their facilities.
To strike a balance between adequate testing and adequate care, industry advocates must face testing. The Arizona Dispensary Association is advocating shorter test lead times, and the Arizona Cannabis Lab Association is urging the Arizona Department of Health to enforce existing laws.
The Senate Draft 1646 submitted by Thomas “TJ” Shope (R-Dist. 8) would replace the current regulations and should streamline the process and shorten the waiting times for results.
The bill is supported by the ADA and allows third-party laboratories to use a single certification as an umbrella for multiple locations. However, she would also penalize the laboratory if the samples weren’t processed within seven working days.
Should the lab miss this window, it would be required to “remit” the amount paid by the nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary for the test to the [AZDHS] for depositing into the medical marijuana fund, “which would wipe out any profit on the transaction.
There are currently four fully accredited laboratories in the state – out of ten listed on the AZDHS website – the majority of which are in the greater Phoenix area and one in Navajo County.
Moe Asnani, owner of Downtown and D2 Pharmacies in Tucson, is a board member of ADA and has campaigned for changes and adoption of SB1646.
Asnani said, the imbalance in the distribution of test sites penalizes southern Arizona pharmacies, in part due to the time it takes to just get samples into the labs.
“If you’re in Maricopa County, you’re fine. You just send a driver on a 20-minute drive: in southern Arizona we need two or three labs,” he said. “We’re at the point where AZDHS needs to look at this.”
The test times were well before Prop 207 was passed. Asnani said on behalf of his pharmacies that the test results could take weeks, if not months, to come back. Testing has also been a huge cost of ownership, with individual tests costing $ 800 to $ 1,000 each and a monthly cost of $ 20,000 to $ 50,000.
While the COVID pandemic and AZDHS ‘responsibility for managing the public health crisis have created difficulties regulating cannabis, the sudden onset of recreational sales has added to the problems.
According to Ryan Treacy, co-founder of the Arizona Cannabis Lab Association and owner of C4 Laboratories in Scottsdale, the months since the testing program began has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.
After a laconic start in November, business soared as pharmacies were updated. But since January the business has bottomed out.
“It was needles,” he said. “In November and early December we felt like there was a lot of volume around the world,” he said. “It was an exciting time for business. And here we are, six weeks later, and I feel like the carpet has been pulled out from under us because the market is just flat.”
Treacy said that a seven day turnaround is not currently possible and that C4 will have to retest up to 25% of the samples it processes.
“In the beginning, the bulk was certainly just a tidal wave of samples; a pure data challenge,” he said. “We’re also seeing a significant number of bugs. And those bugs need secondary confirmation, which means we run 25% of our samples again.”
The failure rate is particularly high with concentrates, where pesticide residues or chemical contamination may occur in higher concentrations due to the nature of the process.
Regarding the root cause of the current crisis, Treacy doesn’t believe COVID affected testing as much as what happened in the wake of legalization.
“It may have limited the resources the DHS could provide internally,” he said. “As for our ability to do the things we had to do to get ready, I don’t know that COVID was to us what it is to restaurants and outdoor venues and things like that.”
Treacy believes that as it matures to market, everything will work out by itself, but in the meantime, he believes the solution for his business side is for AZDHS to enforce rules he believes will be bypassed.
“It generally feels like certain people across the market almost threw their hands up and said, ‘Well, turnaround times are not working for me and my company, and it’s taking a toll on my business,'” he said. “I understand and have empathy and understanding of the stress and problems, but you can’t solve it by ignoring the law, that’s for sure.”