Mike Kahn, CEO of Massachusetts cannabis testing company MCR Labs. Credit: Submitted / MCR Labs

Enforcement of lab testing standards is crucial as more cannabis testing labs open for business in Massachusetts, according to MCR Labs’ Chief Executive Officer, Michael Kahn. The testing executive made his recommendations in a Monday, Jan. 10 speech before the Public Health Committee of the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board.

“In every state with a testing program, lab shopping is a primary issue,” said Michael Kahn. “Our clients generally don’t want to fail these tests. If a second lab out there provides lower fail rates overall, then of course, operationally, financially, it makes a lot of sense to move to a laboratory which finds fewer problems in the samples that come in.”

MCR Labs, much like every other cannabis lab in the state, analyzes flower samples for cannabinoid content, such as THC levels. The labs test for mold and yeast, heavy metals in flower or contaminants, especially those that may appear in manufactured products like edibles or wax concentrate.

Kahn noted that based on his lab’s data, since 2020 the average cannabinoid content for flower in Massachusetts is at 20.2%.

In that same time about 21% of all tested flower samples fail a microbiology test. Heavy metals made up the second most common failure-causing contaminant, but those failures only accounted for 2.3% of all tested samples.

“The issue that I’m seeing that I would really like help on, and that I don’t see in the regulations would be a mechanism that promotes honesty and accuracy in testing in this program,” said Kahn.

Kahn called for the state to develop a method for enforcement lab testing standards, especially as more labs come online.

As a means for enforcement, Kahn suggested that the state utilize a “secret shopper” program where samples with known contamination issues are submitted for testing or product is purchased by secret shoppers and then retested. Those results could then be made public. Kahn also suggested that publicizing testing results for cannabis from the illicit market could also serve as a strong argument in favor of testing and the legal market.

“I would want to know as a citizen of the Commonwealth, how we do,” he said. “I would love to have a comparison between the regulated market and the unregulated market. That for me would really be a nail in the coffin for the unregulated market.”

Kahn also suggested that the state refines how regulated banned substances used in the production of cannabis products, such as additives that affect the consistency of concentrates. Focusing on which substances are banned, without also limiting allowed substances could inadvertently allow harmful products to hit the market.

“I worry, because I see the plethora of weed products coming out all the time; and without the right guard rails, I worry that something else will start to creep into these products that is not safe, but that people don’t know about,” he said.

While seeking greater enforcement, Kahn also cautioned against jumping to conclusions about test results, especially since the current method of testing flower is for the sample test to be done before the rest of the crop is packaged and sent to dispensaries or retail stores.

“This is a very young industry. Right now, testing happens pretty early on in the life cycle of the product and we don’t know how long they’re good for. We don’t have shelf life studies,” he said. “So if we had a secret shopper that came back with mold, that doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody did anything against the regulations. It could mean that the regulations are incomplete.”

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...