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Cannabis Testing

As of now Maine sits questionably within the short running of states with active medical marijuana programs. Considering this departure from norms of mandated testing, many raise valid concerns.

Maine set itself as an early adopter for legalization in 1999, yet, at first thought the lack of common-requirements may seem concerning, especially when compared to nearby Massachusetts, a state that set-up one of the country’s most scrutinizing and thorough testing policies. On paper the implementation of regulatory groundwork for testing seems quite simple and fundamental, yet deceivingly, this requirement is complex and comes with its share of flaws.

With mandated testing comes significant barriers to entry that exclude all but the largest mass-funded multi-faceted operations. Played out in legal states coast to coast, the cost of testing is significant enough to impact foundational decisions of operations. For cultivators, the requirement for testing propagates onto most aspects of business, beyond just simple incurred testing costs and the resultant need to re-asses profit margins and operational feasibility. Implementing testing forces a need for reconsideration within all stages of planning and resultantly leads to adequate and possibly sizable adjustments in operations. In some cases, added cost equates entirely based on the inquired strain or the type of cannabis product being tested (flower/concentrate/edible). But in the end, businesses operate for the compassion of the consumer and the impact brought onto patients is really what matters most. Inevitably, with potential to severely stunt how manageable finances are for caregivers, impacting production affects the supply of products made available to patients who rely on them most.

Beyond the unforgiving reception of this profit-prohibiting operational-core, mandated testing opens the doors for defiant entities to take advantage of a requirement intended for good use. Lengthy queues that complicative product turn-around result from a constant rush to meet compliance barely break the surface of issues entailed for states necessitating tests. With a small number of licenses given to facilities, the lack of a competitive price supply-pool has potential to drive lab costs past what's sustainable, pushing margins below a point financially feasible for caregivers. With consistently-high demand for testing thanks to pressure by the state-induced lack of competition for test facilities, the subsequent supply-demand dynamic means often high costs are not the only price placed onto caregivers. A significant market externality takes place when considering the wait to get one’s test back, both a timely and anxiety inducing price directly hindering cash-flow.

A shared concern among Maine caregivers is the system of “playing favorites”. A derivative of having just a few select labs, oftentimes people outside of the loop will be discriminated against in service, leading them to disproportionate waiting times, costs or result-accuracy. A representative of Sky-Tide Cannabis, a Portland-based caregiver, elaborates: “Our biggest concern is that the labs will be playing favorites...Expediting their friends and making others wait weeks to receive test results.” In a market where only tested products can be sold, having control over the reliability and speed of one’s results is a powerful tool that many feel should not be in the hands of so few facilities.

Often observed is the cyclical by-product of mandatory testing. A vicious cycle, this regulation could bolster a culture that sees high-THC content as the most important factor in determining the value of a crop, reinforcing consumer tendencies and questionable business practices all the while burdening holistic producers committed to a clean and transparent experience. There are numerous cases across the country where it was discovered that legally mandated testing labs were offering to alter or increase results for their own financial agenda, putting pressure on a grower to pay for a “stronger” product, or risk having one’s crop be branded as weak.

By placing an emphasis on a percentage, rather than the physical characteristics or effects of the flower itself (and concerningly, possible pesticides and other contaminants), the ability to market one’s own products is transferred from the caregivers’ hands, subsequently placed onto that of the labs’, an already questionably powerful entity. Businesses can't risk a competitive disadvantage and as some competitors may be entwined in poor business-practices, for most the only option is to dive into the same concerning operations. By creating this environment where one’s only option is to participate in the ruse, thus enforcing (and eventually normalizing) concerning practices, an entire market-share becomes deemed illegitimate, associated in a web of sketchy-schemes. Instead of risking having one’s hard-earned harvest, having the potential to be considered lesser compared to artificially inflated numbers, most would simply follow the footsteps of what their cheating counterparts already surrounded themselves with.

As a large portion of Maine’s medical community rely on small-scale caregivers, requiring testing has serious potential to gut the medical marijuana program, and its reputation as it currently stands. The active lack of testing regulations is what allows the Maine medical marijuana program to thrive; with it, competitive freedom has cut dead-weight financial losses, allowing caregivers to provide medicine for patients, albeit in a way that is unlike most states.

Maine, positioned as the home for premier New England cannabis, receives this moniker as a direct result from its regulatory-differentiation, especially in recent years, only strengthening its stronghold for state-wide quality and value. Low entry costs into the caregiver market-share provides breathing room to those with a passion for cannabis, but potentially without the coffers that a fully funded organization would need. With over twenty years of legal experience, the Maine medical program is a tight-knit community that continues to raise the bar as a collective, pushing boundaries in what is possible with medical cannabis and its commerce.

Once looking at how testing plays out, rather than its theoretical proposal, few fall in favor of testing regulations as established in other states. While few are against the concept of testing as a whole, the clear issue isn't testing, but rather, problem arises through established limitations via legal-jargon, which when setup inherently allow loopholes and subsequently questionable and morally-counteractive business practices. Many caregivers conduct optional third-party testing for their own purposes. It is easy to understand the benefits that come from thought out and successfully implemented testing, however, it is also easy to draw on so many living-examples of unintended consequences that came with regulatory testing. As frustration does not stem from simply a lack in regulatory-implementation, as often this comes at a cost greater than the intended benefits, the collective uncertainty and lack of confidence in Maine, and its ability to properly script and regulate such universal guidelines that has the potential to breed resentment for many involved. 

- Zach

Maine Potcast Contributor

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