Viridis’ testing laboratory in Lansing. Credit: Company Video / Viridis Laboratories

Although Michigan was the first Midwest state to legalize medical cannabis sales in 2008, the state’s testing system is still struggling to meet the needs of customers and ensure products are safe. 

Avi Zallen, founder and CEO of Steadfast Labs in Hazel Park, says that while testing lab conditions have improved and the expansion of more facilities has helped, Michigan regulators have not adequately enforced regulations and safety measures to protect consumers from faulty testing as well as practices such as potency inflation that gives products higher than normal volumes of THC.

“We need to have a regulatory body that can enforce its own rules more effectively,” Zallen said. “I do think we have some good regulators that are trying. We’re hoping that more people know about it and look at who is testing in these labs.”

Other cultivators and dispensary owners have questioned if the CRA has the teeth it needs to enforce the rules adequately to prevent massive recalls and protect consumers.

Labs in Michigan must test for 60 different pesticides, 7 types of metal, foreign matter, potency, THC levels, and 41 different terpenes as required by the Cannabis Regulatory Agency. The process takes roughly four days.

Starting in 2015, Steadfast Labs began as a way to promote cannabis education on top of testing. Zallen claims that while there are ways to cut corners in testing that could yield bigger profits compared to their competitors, he hopes to have Steadfast commit to the science first even if to a fault. Zallen states that there are now 15 testing labs in Michigan with the potential for 20 by the end of the year, up from roughly seven a year prior.

“Some people are really struggling right now and some labs won’t always make it, but it’s important to tell our consumers what they are actually using and make sure that they are safe using these products, even if it means we are not as successful,” Zallen says.

Rick Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML, alleges that the state is having a crisis of trust in the testing industry as a result of the recalls. However, he is still confident that testing is headed in the right direction as it has doubled the number of facilities in the past year to help smaller cultivators and testing personnel make shorter trips to smaller cities, as the testing labs were originally exclusively in large metro areas.

“Being first in the Midwest to step into the industry, we had to learn a lot about what works but we got a good head start compared to others,” Thompson said. “It was a real hardship for a cultivator to drive hundreds of miles to the facilities, oftentimes going out more than 400 miles to and from places. The state is doing everything it can to ensure testing is efficient and safe for everyone.”

The state has been subject to two massive recalls within the past year; one that yanked more than $5 million in product from Sky Labs and a second that recalled product from Viridis worth $230 million, the largest in state history thus far. Viridis’ chief operating officer, Todd Welch, believes there was no basis for that recall and filed suit against Michigan and the decision, adding that Michigan’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) needs additional oversight in handling recall efforts.

Viridis, which has labs in Bay City and Lansing, was founded by three former Michigan State Police Forensic Division investigators and claim that they treat each test as a crime scene to avoid missing details and leaving any contaminants. They train their employees for roughly 3  months and discard all materials they use to avoid cross contamination, says Welch.

“The state has the most stringent testing requirements of any state in the country,” Welch says. “All of us have a passion that users are getting extremely accurate results that they’re getting a good safe healthy product.” 

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.