Questions arise after Michigan regulators filed formal complaints against one of the state’s top cannabis testing laboratories last month. Cannabis that tests over 28% THC, and at times over 40%, is subject for an automatic audit, and regulators say the lab results aren’t adding up.
Formal complaints were filed by the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA) in May against Viridis Laboratories, one of the leading lab testing companies in the state, but the lab is in turn firing back with its own countersuit. The CRA noted discrepancies in Viridis Laboratories lab results since December 2020, according to formal complaints the CRA filed on May 19.
Often consumers question the THC content found in lab results, however THC level alone is not a reliable indicator of potency in all cases. Conversely, there is enormous pressure to drive up THC levels across the board as it is one of the biggest drivers of cannabis sales.
“Potency inflation is an ongoing, longstanding, widely known issue across cannabis in the U.S. right now in legal markets … ” Lev Spivak-Birndorf, founder and chief science officer for Ann Arbor-based PSI Labs, told MLive. “I call it the cycle of potency inflation: people want high potency, so then stores are under pressure to try and deliver that … and that drives growers to seek labs that give the highest results, and thus, we have this rampant lab shopping that we have going on.”
Per CRA policy, agents will audit results for any flower that tests over 28% THC. And according to the complaints, Viridis samples hit this range 8.9% of the time, which is reportedly higher than most labs across the state.
Viridis was also subject to the largest cannabis recall in the state’s history. The MRA recalled an estimated 64,000 pounds of cannabis valued at almost $230 million on Nov. 17, 2021, based on court filings. However, later, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher M. Murray lifted the recall for a major fraction of the cannabis that was recalled.
But Viridis filed its own formal complaint against the CRA in the state’s administrative court, while litigation is ongoing. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce backed up Viridis by filing an amicus brief in support of Viridis that said the CRA recall “unconstitutionally exceeds the scope of the agency’s legislatively approved mandate.”
Viridis officials say the claims are “meritless” and that they’re targeted because the CRA wants a more even playing field with the limited number of testing laboratories.
“These CRA allegations against Viridis are from last August and continue to be baseless, meritless and totally detached from science, facts and data,” Viridis CEO Greg Michaud said.
“We intend to defend our business against these false claims during the court process and show the vindictive and retaliatory nature of the CRA’s actions which are clearly designed to cause maximum disruption and damage.
“Court-ordered proficiency test results that Viridis is in possession of, which the CRA had been withholding, will directly contradict these findings, and we’re confident the truth will prevail when all facts come to light. We hope these legal proceedings will pave the way for more transparency, accountability, and reforms at the CRA. Our hope is that the CRA can one day fulfill its true mission of promoting patient and product safety instead of unfairly targeting Michigan businesses trying to grow, compete and create jobs.”
MLive pointed out one instance when a purported 40% THC sample was challenged. A dispensary was displaying flower with over 50% total cannabinoids and 40.3% THC. The Spott, a licensed safety compliance lab in Kalamazoo, ran its own test and reached a very different outcome. According to the Spott, the flower contained about 26.4% THC, compared to the 40.3% that the label claims.
Both cases of litigation are ongoing.