In an industry where high product prices can push consumers to the black market, marijuana businesses must continually look for ways to keep costs down. However, when the product being sold can be contaminated, which could lead to consumer illness and death, regulators naturally want marijuana growers to pay for expensive lab testing of their products. Unfortunately, that testing is far from perfect in today’s marijuana industry.

As a result, the problems of marijuana testing lead to far-reaching effects. Let’s take a closer look at some of those problems and effects.

Price and Supply

Lab testing costs money, and in an industry where many participants aren’t generating large sums of profits yet, adding expensive product testing can cause higher product prices for consumers.

Furthermore, many states have very few approved testing laboratories. When testing is required too frequently and labs can’t keep up, cultivators often are unable to deliver enough product to dispensaries. This leads to more demand than supply.

When prices are too high or supplies can’t meet demands, consumers are more likely to purchase marijuana illegally. Licensed businesses lose sales and consumers could get lower quality product.

Lack of Research

Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, only a small amount of money is set aside for cannabis research. Therefore, we know very little about how contaminants affect marijuana products or the people who use those products.

Therefore, no one truly knows what they should be testing marijuana for, what factors are actually “bad” indicators, and what should be allowed, banned, or even tested for. Each state’s regulators have implemented their own sets of contaminants, such as pesticides and mold, which labs are required to look for when testing marijuana samples. Unfortunately, no one really knows if those are the contaminants they should be testing for or not.

No Set Standards and Procedures

With limited research, there are no set standards or procedures for marijuana testing labs to follow. Different labs use different methods and equipment to test for the same contaminants. As a result, two different labs could provide very different results for the same sample of marijuana.

Since there are no set standards and procedures, different states test for many contaminants in very different ways. Also, some states use pharmaceutical product testing as a model for marijuana testing while others use agricultural product testing processes.

Inconsistent and Inadequate Results

In addition to the inconsistent results discussed above related to no set standards and procedures for labs to follow, some results inconsistencies are leveraged by industry players to push alternative agendas. For example, if two labs are known for producing very different results related to the amount of THC found in marijuana products, a cultivator might choose the lab that provides higher THC level results since many consumers want higher THC levels in their marijuana products.

In some states, cultivators choose the marijuana samples that they send to labs for testing, which means they can affect their testing results by choosing their best samples. This leads to inadequate results for consumers.

Advantages to Big Businesses

Marijuana testing can also benefit big businesses over small businesses. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, larger growers can generate greater economies of scale when moving many small batches of samples through a testing facility compared to smaller businesses. The cost per gram for testing is much higher for smaller cultivators.

How to Fix the Marijuana Testing Problem

Fixing the problems that cause marijuana testing to affect the industry in so many ways will take time, but it can be done. The first step is to develop a set of standards and procedures for all cultivators and labs to follow to ensure results are accurate and comparable between labs.

The next step is accrediting labs and monitoring them closely to ensure they’re following those standards and procedures. If a lab cannot achieve consistent results, it should not be allowed to operate in the industry. In other words, labs should be held accountable for the results they’re providing.

What other ways can the testing problem in the marijuana industry be solved? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.