Reported THC Potency For Cali Weed Drops After New Rules Take Effect

The median reported potency of regulated weed in California has been steadily dropping over the past six months, according to a report from Bay Area news source SFGate. The drop in potency, which includes a decline of 7% in just the past three months, coincides with the recent implementation of new state regulations governing how the potency of cannabis flower is determined by testing labs in the state.

According to information from cannabis market data analytics firm Headset shared with SFGate, the median potency of cannabis flower tested in California was 30.7% in December. The data, which is based on more than 90,000 potency test results from the state, also shows that the median potency for cannabis flower had declined to about 28.5% by March 1, a decrease of about 7% in just three months.

Reported cannabis potency has long been a point of contention in California’s cannabis industry. Cannabis flower that shows higher levels of THC in lab testing results is more desirable to many consumers and thus more valuable. As a result, reported median cannabis potency levels have steadily risen in California, with some retail offerings listing THC potency exceeding 30% or even higher in some cases.

The drop in the median potency of California came as new regulations for a standardized cannabinoids test method and standardized operating procedures for the testing of dried cannabis flower and non-infused pre-rolls were implemented in the state in January. The rules were adopted by the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) in 2022 after legislation mandating the regulations was passed by state lawmakers the year before.

DCC officials noted that the legislature passed the law for the new testing regulations over concerns of cannabis potency inflation and reports of “lab shopping” by businesses in the industry attempting to show test results higher than what is actually contained in the cannabis flower or product.

“One of the challenges we face in regulating an industry that is not federally recognized, is the lack of standardized, and validated methods for testing,” DCC Director Nicole Elliott said at the time in a statement from the regulatory agency. “Individual, licensed laboratories use different methods which may produce inconsistent results and inaccurate data on cannabis cannabinoid content. DCC is working to change that so there is greater integrity in the market, accurate information for consumers, and confidence among stakeholders.”

When the new rules for testing cannabis flower potency went into effect at the beginning of the year, the DCC reported that only 18 labs had taken the steps to be compliant with the new regulations, leading to a shutdown of flower testing at the remaining labs. Since then, the number has increased by nearly half, with 26 labs now demonstrating compliance, according to the latest data from the department.

Zach Eisenberg, a vice president at San Francisco licensed testing lab Anresco Laboratories, said that the drop in the median reported potency of cannabis flower in California appears to be a sign that the new rules are beginning to have an effect.

“We certainly heard from customers and potential customers that they’re seeing potency values dropping at other laboratories,” Eisenberg told SFGate. “Some labs were even proactively saying, ‘Be prepared for our results to be lower after this change.’”

Eisenberg added that the drop in median potency is likely not caused by any change in the products. Instead, he believes that test results are now a more accurate indication of the reality of cannabis potency in California.

“I highly doubt anything has changed in terms of the actual composition of the cannabis products,” Eisenberg said.

Andrea Golan, an attorney at the Los Angeles office of cannabis law practice Vicente LLP and a member of the firm’s Regulatory Compliance and Hemp and Cannabinoids Departments, agrees, saying that it is “unlikely California cannabis is ‘suddenly getting weaker’ as the SFGate headline implies.”

“For years, the efficacy of cannabis lab test results has been widely discussed across the California cannabis industry due to inflated potency test results and inconsistencies in results due to labs using different methodologies for testing cannabis,” Golan writes in an email to High Times about the regulations that went into effect on January 1. 

“The change in law ends the practice of shopping for labs with less strict testing methods in order to inflate THC content,” Golan added. “Therefore, rather than cannabis getting weaker, recent changes may now provide a more accurate reflection of true potency.”

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