Seth Jacobs’ outdoor crop in update New York. Credit: Submitted / Seth Jacobs

Amid concern over the viability of the state’s first outdoor adult use cannabis crop, New York’s Office of Cannabis Management relaxed testing standards on Nov. 1. The announcement came after numerous cultivators reported that they were not able to pass the test requiring that flower not have any more than 10,000 colony forming units per gram.

“Cannabis Laboratories will still need to run these tests as part of the state mandated testing panel, but at this time, there will not be a defined limit for unextracted cannabis products in the adult-use program. It’s the responsibility of the licensee to consider these results and any impact to the stability and expiration dating of the product as well as any risk to the health of consumers.”

The blanket threshold for microbials, many of which may or may or not be harmful, has made it difficult for producers of New York’s first outdoor-exclusive crop. The state gave existing hemp farmers with outdoor farms the first crack at cultivation licenses, but now that the annual October harvest has occurred, many of those producers were worried about passing testing limits, given the outdoor operations naturally invite microbial ecosystems that do not necessarily create harmful reactions from consumers.

“There’s definitely a collective sigh of relief that was heard around the New York cannabis industry when this rule was relaxed,” said Dan Livingston, executive director of the Cannabis Association of New York.

“It was quite a relief,” added cultivator Seth Jacobs. “I haven’t talked to a single grower that had a biological test that would pass. There was no flower available without remediation.”

The possibility of not being able to pass testing standards became a major cause for concern among cultivators, according to Jacobs.

“We were really distressed with what we were facing. We can’t grow inside yet, they’re not licensing indoor grows,” he said. “If they hadn’t wised up, they would have really had egg on their face.”

On the other hand, there is also some concern that the shift in standards could be harmful for consumers.

“I read the ruling and believe that they are truly a disservice to the general public consuming unextracted cannabis,” said Roger Brown, president of ACS Laboratory. “Reducing the strict requirement previously implemented would have been a better path rather than eliminating the pass/fail requirement instituted in every state that has legalized marijuana for adult use or medicinal use. Regulators have to have standards and requirements to ensure that safe cannabis is delivered to the market for human consumption.”

Cultivators must still test flower for pesticides, metals, mycotoxins, and microbiology, but they will not have to test for total yeast and microbials until January, 2023. Until then, cultivators will only have to test for the presence of specific harmful microbes, such as Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, and Aspergillus.

By January 2023 cultivators will also have to test for moisture content, water activity, and filth or foreign material. By March, 2023, they will also have to test for residual solvents and terpenes.

Livingston suggested that easing the testing limit thresholds would also create a buffer where licensed testing could get their operations up and running before the adult use market has to worry about a log jam for testing results, such as what Massachusetts faced a year ago.

“If you look at other states in the early stages of rolling out their legal industry, there’s always a timing issue,” said Livingston.

“The Office plans on sharing additional lab testing guidance soon to help streamline the lab testing process for conditional licensees including a temporary protocol designed to enable licensees to test multiple lots of the same form of product simultaneously, with the goal of maximizing available lab testing capacity,” said the state in its memo concerning testing limits.

Once the state brings microbusinesses online, there will be adult use indoor cultivation. Until that time, Brown dismissed the idea of separate testing standards for indoor and outdoor grows.

“Regulations are good, it creates a standard that growers and licensees will elevate to that level or choose to exceed it,” said Brown from ACS. “If there are no pass/fail standards, then bad actors will always be present. I don’t believe there should be two sets of standards for indoor and outdoor grow. Standards are in place for consistency.”

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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...