Since 1996, when California became the first state to legalize, marijuana testing and quality assurance have been an evolving issue. Since each state has independent authority over its marijuana program, testing compliance varies widely. More so, recreational marijuana has very low standards for quality testing. Some states, such as Maine, require no quality assurance or testing at all.
On the other side of the coin, medical marijuana in some states has stricter requirements for quality assurance. Even though levels of product testing vary from state to state, Louisiana remains one of the strictest when it comes to providing the highest quality outcomes for medical marijuana. From seed to cultivation, and even while in storage or on the shelf of the dispensary, medical marijuana products must meet stringent levels of quality control set by Louisiana law before they are released for patient consumption.
According to the Louisiana Department of Health, which oversees the medical marijuana program in Louisiana, the procedures and processes are very similar to those put in place when the program stated in 2018.
There are two licensed medical marijuana manufacturers in the state of Louisiana — the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center. Each of those two licensees contracts with a third-party firm (“permittee”) to handle the aspects of growth, processing, testing, and transportation of the product. Each batch of product is tested for purity and to ensure that it does not exceed the THC-content levels prescribed by the Legislature. The product that has been tested and accepted by the permittee may be transported to one of the current licensed pharmacies/dispensaries in the state for distribution to a consumer. Dispensaries may provide medical marijuana in an approved dosage form to any patient with a valid recommendation from a board-certified Louisiana physician.
In December of 2022, the final rule was approved for testing, among other things, of medical marijuana in Louisiana. As outlined in this document, the process for quality compliance starts with the structure of the buildings, equipment, and security of inventory and the premises and describes, in precise measurement, how batch sampling is to be conducted and the allowable amounts of contaminants. All testing must have a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from an approved laboratory and any batch that fails one or two tests is destroyed and not allowed to be used. In addition, there are many requirements that must be met to reach quality assurance before medical marijuana products appear in Louisiana dispensaries. To read the document in full, click here.
The quality testing of medical marijuana involves several steps to ensure its safety, quality, and potency. The specific procedures may vary depending on local regulations, but some common aspects of testing include:
Cannabinoid Profiling: This involves analyzing the levels of cannabinoids present in the marijuana plant. The two main cannabinoids of interest are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), as they have therapeutic effects. The ratio of THC to CBD can also be crucial, as different strains may have different effects.
Terpene Analysis: Terpenes are aromatic compounds present in cannabis that contribute to its flavor and aroma. They may also have therapeutic effects. Testing for terpenes helps in understanding the full spectrum of compounds in a particular strain.
Residual Solvent Testing: This ensures that no harmful solvents, which may have been used during the extraction process (if applicable), are present in the final product.
Microbial Screening: This involves testing for the presence of harmful microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and mold. Contaminants can pose serious health risks, especially for individuals with weakened immune systems.
Pesticide Analysis: Cannabis plants can be susceptible to pests, and some cultivators use pesticides to protect their crops. Pesticide residues can be harmful when consumed, so testing for their presence is essential.
Heavy Metal Testing: Cannabis plants have the ability to absorb heavy metals from the soil, which can be toxic to humans. Testing ensures that levels of heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium are within safe limits.
Moisture Content: The moisture content of marijuana affects its weight and overall quality. Excessive moisture can lead to mold growth, while insufficient moisture may result in a harsh smoking experience.
Potency Testing: This involves determining the concentration of cannabinoids in the final product. It helps in providing accurate information about the strength of the marijuana, allowing patients and healthcare professionals to dose appropriately.
Foreign Material Inspection: This step involves visually inspecting the marijuana for any foreign materials, such as sticks, leaves, or other contaminants.
Testing is typically conducted by third-party laboratories that specialize in cannabis analysis. Stringent testing protocols are crucial to ensuring the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana products, and adherence to these standards is often required by regulatory bodies in regions where medical marijuana is legal.
In order to maintain compliance with the high standards set in Louisiana, the designated growers and cultivators must continue to evolve their internal standards and their methods of cultivation.In addition to third-party lab batch testing, growers also test during every phase of cultivation and production. Good Day Farms, one of the growers for Louisiana, states, “Quality is the cornerstone of our brand. Our team of experts meticulously oversees every stage of cultivation and production to ensure that each product meets the highest standards of quality, purity, and potency.” Ilera Healthcare, the other grower in Louisiana, also uses third-party and internal testing. Significant testing for batches is performed by a reliable and creditable third-party firm.