Challenges of compliance in the cannabis industry

Updated on November 26, 2020

The legalization of cannabis use in some countries and most of the US states is introducing additional compliance challenges for many stakeholders involved in this business. As we know, Canada has fully legalized regulated marijuana use for both medical and recreational use while Australia, Colombia, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Jamaica, Thailand, and Poland are some of the countries that allow regulated cannabis for medical purposes only. In 33 states of America and in the District of Columbia, a qualified physician can prescribe weed to ease a patient’s ailment as it’s legalized for medical use.

Although more and more benefits of cannabis are being discovered, this industry is still in its infancy. Luckily, its growth rate is moving very fast attracting colossal investments from producers, retailers, and consumers. The explosion of marijuana popularity is presenting big compliance issues due to numerous rules and regulations controlling its cultivation, distribution, transportation, advertising, and marketing.

As the industry continues to grow, it also continues to feel bumps along the way. Unfortunately, many cannabis growers had no previous experience in farming, so they tend to make mistakes such as using pesticides illegally. Lately, some people with no appropriate college education have joined the ranks of Ph.D. chemists, often with less-than-satisfactory results because they’ve got their education on cannabis quality control from the internet. They sometimes buy an analytical instrument for cultivation on eBay and try to set it up without knowing anything about how it works. This is the first challenge of compliance in the cannabis industry.

Another difficulty faced by growers is a representative sampling. As cannabis is considered a valuable thing, producers are typically reluctant to use more than a gram or two of the sample for testing. In some cases, they even send only a single cannabis bud, which cannot be representative of a big crop. Growers may cherry-pick their best-looking buds for testing, so as a result, potency numbers may be false.

One more problem of cannabis compliance is pesticide use. Some growers are desperate because there are no insecticides that list cannabis on the label. At the same time, it is illegal to apply pesticides and fungicides in order to control aphids, spider mites, and mold. Unfortunately, they thrive in the warm and moist conditions used to grow cannabis, and there is almost no solution to it. Therefore, in trying to save their crops, farmers may break the state law and use forbidden compounds.

Some agencies identify pesticide-positive cannabis samples as those containing 0.1 ppm of any pesticide. Today, there are thousands of pesticides and it’s impossible to test for all of them. Even though Oregon regulators have created a 59-pesticide panel for the testing requirements, it’s impossible for one chromatographic system to analyze each compound effectively.

Some recent studies have revealed high levels of pesticides in marijuana products. As reported in one of the US newspapers, Spokane testing lab, found many products purchased from Washington dispensaries that contain pesticides above allowed limits. Another cannabis testing lab in Oregon found out that a “pesticide-free” plant wash commonly used in the cannabis industry actually contains an illegal pesticide which is not registered with the EPA.

They say pesticides are by far the most complex analyses that must be done in the cannabis industry, and not every lab is set up to do them. Still, it’s impossible to get acute quantitative results. Modern validated methods for analyzing pesticides in one type of cannabis products are not going to work for pesticides in another one, and there is a huge variety of those.

All in all, pesticide use in cannabis cultivation raises significant concerns about public health and environmental protection. And even those states that have adopted policies governing cannabis growth vary in the clarity of restrictions.

Microorganisms also represent a challenge for the cannabis industry. Marijuana plants can easily get contaminated with different microorganisms such as mold, bacteria, mildew, and yeast. Some pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and  Escherichia coli together with fungal toxins can lead to severe illness in people who are taking cannabis.

Sample tampering is another popular issue in this sphere. For instance, some cannabis growers try to boost THC values in testing samples by rolling selected buds in a concentrated form of extract. Or they may try to impact the microbiological tests by putting their samples in the microwave.

Decreasing compliance risks is rule number one in the cannabis industry. One has to follow both national and local laws and regulations in everything from cultivation to sales. Maintaining compliance with regulations is vital for saving your brand image and a license to operate.

Running a successful dispensary is easy if you understand the compliance risks and know how to avoid them. The most common compliance complaints have been described in this article, but you should find more information on this subject to feel safe about your enterprise. Fortunately, risks of cannabis compliance can be easily avoided with proper research and accurate planning.

written by Tia M., Editor and Contributor at AskGrowers

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.