When Colorado made history this year by legalizing recreational marijuana use, lawmakers were tasked with creating a regulatory framework for the production, sale, and use of the previously illegal substance. While Colorado has addressed issues such as taxation and cultivation of the plant, the state has struggled to provide clear guidelines for food safety, testing, and lab certification regarding marijuana edibles, causing difficulties for regulators and manufacturers alike.
Federally, USDA and FDA are reluctant to regulate the nascent industry because marijuana is still considered a Schedule I narcotic by the DEA. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is unwilling to regulate marijuana edibles out of fear of jeopardizing their federal funding.
In lieu of the Department of Public Health and Environment’s oversight, the state allows the Marijuana Enforcement Division, under the Department of Revenue, to handle food safety and lab certification. It appears this regulatory agency may be in over its head as concerns grow over potency testing and labeling in the wake of two deaths allegedly involving the overconsumption of marijuana edibles. Adding insult to injury, the Denver Department of Environmental Health cited 58 violations at 24 edible marijuana establishments this past month.
Still, with an estimated 8 million to 12 million servings of edible marijuana already sold in Colorado, there is an immediate cause for concern in food safety testing. As the edible marijuana industry grows, so do worries over how manufacturers will tackle challenges like regulatory compliance and quality assurance.
Ben Pascal, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Invisible Sentinel, feels that there is a lot more the government should be doing right now. “This is a growing trend that will continue in the United States; these products will continue to gain market share and there should be some sort of guidance on how and when to regulate the safety of these products,” explains Pascal.
With a rapidly growing industry, more producers of pot edibles are finding it harder to meet regulatory compliance goals. “Larger accredited labs in the US find that there is risk in conducting testing for marijuana edibles,” says Pascal. He believes that Invisible Sentinel’s rapid molecular diagnostics product,Veriflow, can help solve some of these issues.
“We make molecular testing more accessible with low cost, ease of use, robust technology, and the ability to bring all of this testing in-house, helping to eliminate risk factors for clients,” describes Pascal. While Veriflow has the capability to alleviate some quality assurance worries, Pascal points to the lack of regulatory oversight as the main issue.
“If you are not going to be regulated by the federal government, holding you to a safety standard, then smaller groups will not make the proper investments to ensure the safety of their product,” Pascal explains. “It is not about cost, it is about the lack of education and knowledge surrounding the implications of food safety issues in this industry.”
After some of these smaller regulatory hurdles are cleared within the state, then we can start to look toward future food safety standards in the marijuana edibles industry on a national level. Colorado’s experiment in legalization foreshadows some of the issues we will face when marijuana is accepted at a federal level.
As this trend continues, we should act preemptively to alleviate regulatory headaches before they are exacerbated, Pascal adds. The nation’s agencies need to be ready to embrace the legalization of marijuana and related food products in order to prevent real safety issues from surfacing.