A technician weighs out cannabis flower for testing at MCR Labs in Massachusetts. Credit: Submitted

The two states in New England with active adult use markets have some significant differences in how they approach cannabis testing.

Massachusetts opened its adult use market in 2018, followed by Maine in 2020. In both cases, the new market brought a new set of testing requirements for cannabis providers.

Massachusetts was the first state in the country to mandate cannabis testing, and it has the most robust cannabis testing lab market, in terms of number of service providers. There were nine different labs with commence operation orders and one more with a final license in the state, as of March 10.

Unlike some of its neighbors, Massachusetts is benefiting from having the time to evolve its testing regimen, which Mike Kahn, founder and CEO of MCR Labs said has been helpful, given the low priority testing once had in the state.

“I’m speculating that it’s based on the historical evolution of the regulations where the testing program in Massachusetts was sort of an afterthought,” he said.

Kahn said that with multiple testing options, lab shopping does take place, but having customers be able to bring their own purchases to double check can act as a motivator for companies to keep things honest.

“There certainly is a trend in the industry overall for lab shopping, or finding a lab that will give you the results that you want,” he said. “Is there a good incentive for honesty in the industry? No, not directly. The only incentive that we have now in Massachusetts, is that people can still come in and bring products to us from the outside.”

Both states test for potency and contaminants, and both set mold and yeast thresholds to no more than 10,000 colony forming units per gram.

The key difference between the two is that Massachusetts requires full testing for all cannabis, while Maine does not require it for medical cannabis.

Despite there not being a requirement, there is interest from the state’s medical caregivers to test their products, but not as rigorously as adult use, according to Greg Newland, founder and chief science officer for Nova Analytic Labs in Portland, Maine.

“We definitely do a lot more volume for medical testing, but revenue wise, it’s a small fraction of the adult use samples,” he said.

Typically, medical caregivers that do submit their products for testing only want to check for potency, which is less expensive than the mandatory test for adult use cannabis, which checks for potency, microbials, metals, and other contaminants.

When sampling, Newland said that his lab will go to cultivation sites to collect their own samples, or a third-party collector will do that. Nova Analytic Labs also maintains several drop boxes across the state.

Medical cannabis operators can select their own samples and bring it to the lab, but adult use testing requires that larger scale batch testing take place in order to hinder the cultivator from selectively picking the strongest samples.

Newland is not sure that the state will update its testing requirements any time soon, but he does think demand will increase the desire for tested medical cannabis.

“So a lot of them are requiring that all the products coming into their retail stores are tested before they’re put on the shelf, and I think that’s great and I think the more that happens, it’s going to ensure the safety of the products.” 

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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...