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In Maine’s medical marijuana a questionable extraction process has become widespread. If you've purchased medical marijuana recently, you have likely come across a product processed via color remediation column, commonly known as CRC. Some caregivers openly advertise its use, others feel obligated to inform patients. Many don’t mention it at all. CRC, a relatively new extraction process bears misinformation and controversy within the Maine cannabis community.

Traditionally, most professional extractors utilize a closed-loop or short-path system which employs butane or similar gasses as the sole solvent, in a process known as butane hash oil extraction, or BHO. Using this method, the plant’s trichomes typically affect the color of concentrate; when subpar material is used, impurities can develop which can darken the appearance and indicate a degradation in quality. This rendered identifying concentrates that may have been made with low-quality source material rather straight-forward, however, a process like CRC removes color as a key indicator.

Color remediation column (CRC) is a secondary filtration process that brightens the color of BHO. Using substances such as clay, alumina, and silica, impurities causing dark colors are filtered out, with the remaining product being not only lighter in color, but in theory, a purer, higher quality extract. In addition, even with significant advancements to the BHO extraction method, there exists the possibility that a small amount of butane remains post-extraction and CRC can be used again to further purify an already refined product.

With that being said, issues can arise when the secondary CRC filtration is done on a product that either did not have it’s primary filtration executed properly, or was low-quality to begin with. Due to the history and popularity of BHO as an extraction method, a lighter color has become synonymous with higher quality; with the introduction of CRC, this widely-accepted concept is essentially rebuked, leaving patients confused and, more often than not, disappointed.

Color remediation has opened the possibility for extractors to purposefully use subpar starting material, knowing they could upsell their product through the ability to improve the color -- and for many, the product's perceived quality -- before the patient ever sees it. The reality of using low-quality starting material for concentrates, however, is that filtration methods can only do so much, the overall flavor and potency will not compare to extracts made using fresh, properly grown cannabis. However, the common misconception that lighter concentrates are better, combined with the fact that concentrates, like flowers, are often purchased based on appearance, welcomes a reality where undesirable concentrates are being color-remediated and stocked on shelves alongside non-deceptive, non-CRC products, occurring often with no distinction or explanation.

To Mainers buying concentrates, this brings concern, for good reason. With complaints of poor taste and a harsh smoke, many feel that terpenes and other desirable cannabinoids are partially or completely removed in the process of color remediation. BHO has reinforced itself as the predominant extraction solvent due in part to its ability to produce flavorful extracts that are representative of it’s flower form; color remediation filtering seems to be taking a step back from that in favor of a slightly more refined end product, leaving patients debating if the possibility of even further refinement is worth the risk unknowingly purchasing a product that has been made with subpar product.

Paul’s Boutique Nursery, a medical marijuana storefront in Windham, in particular has been the subject of some CRC-related controversy. In addition to their stand-out craft cannabis, Paul’s has gained recognition for their wide selection of flavorful BHO concentrates. When they began offering color remediated concentrates, many were wary about what the change meant for the Boutique going forward. A representative for Paul’s explains that while they “have traditionally taken the stance that extracts from dried, cured material are a better representation and more enjoyable without any color remediation columns or filtering” there has been interest expressed by both extractors wishing to display their abilities and patients wanting to see more refined products for sale. Paul’s still intends to stock a majority, if not all, of their regular BHO concentrates, and will just additionally offer color remediated products which are labeled as such. This seems the most rational approach to the issue, giving patients a heads-up about the secondary refinement that may not be what they are used to, as well as introducing a new product without limiting the availability of longstanding others.

The Paul’s Boutique representative also explains how CRC processing may not be as abusable by those wanting to use otherwise unsellable products as commonly perceived, as not only does the secondary processing have its own cost separate from the primary extraction, but it is known to reduce yields, which also cut profitability. While this is true, this does not take into account those processing an unsellable starting material, which then would become a low-quality but light, clear looking concentrate.

All in all, the wary truth about CRC is that it is still a relatively new extraction method. The jury is out to find a sweet spot where the color-darkening impurities are removed, but terpenes and flavor are left untouched. For many, perhaps most, CRC processing is an unnecessary gamble when there are so many traditional concentrates to be found, but with Maine cannabis community continuously pushing its limits, it is safe to say that secondary refinement will continuously improve and will find a permanent home on storefront shelves.


Maine Potcast Contributor

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