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Increased Batch Size Limits for Testing Put Patients and Consumers at Risk. Here’s Why.

ByTrichome Team

April 13, 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In early 2022, New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) passed an amendment to its Interim Testing Guidelines for medical cannabis in the state. One seemingly innocuous decision, tucked in a single paragraph, increased maximum batch size limits for cannabis from 10 lbs to 100 lbs for a single compliance test. The rationale was that larger cultivation batches with fewer test samples would expedite testing, increase available supply, and help the state in its quest to ensure adequate supply for both medical patients and, soon, recreational consumers.

However, this 10-fold increase in batch size limits has implications for quality, safety and product recalls. These issues could result in harm to medical cannabis patients and further complicate New Jersey’s efforts to establish a robust adult-use program—especially as the state imposes third-party testing on Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) for the first time.

Contamination and Large Batch Sizes

To understand why, it’s helpful to look in your own backyard. Every gardener, agricultural professional and cannabis cultivator can tell you: No two plants are precisely alike. You may have purchased those two tomato plants at the same time, but one is slightly taller, or maybe one has slightly smaller fruit.

The same logic extends to cannabis contamination. Just because plants are grown under the same conditions, in the same place, and are harvested at the same time does not mean they will be uniform. Localized contamination due to poor soil health, overwatering or infestation can affect plants at any point in the growing cycle. When identified early, contaminated plants can be destroyed or removed from a growing environment, helping protect healthy plants from contamination (and ultimately keeping consumers safe).

When compliance samples for testing—whether for cannabinoid content, mold, mycotoxins, salmonella or pesticides—are drawn from 10-lb batches, issues are easy to spot. Samples drawn from batch sizes of 100 lbs are likely to overlook hotspots of contamination. How? It’s all about representative sampling and testing.

Let’s say, for example, one back corner of a large cultivation room has poor airflow and standing water present, and as a result, cannabis plants in that area become contaminated with mold. The plants are harvested, dried, cured and stored, with five pounds of flower per container. As a result, one five-pound container of flower is contaminated with mold from the small batch of contaminated plants, but the rest of the batch is clean.

If this five-pound container is part of a 100lb batch for testing, there are 19 other containers, each containing five pounds, in this batch. During sampling for contamination testing, 10-12 grams are taken from each five-pound container and combined into one test sample, representing 0.5% of the 100lb harvest batch.

This results in only about four to six percent of the test sample containing sample increments with high levels of yeast and mold—too small to be flagged as contamination. This would allow the batch to proceed to sale, in which the five pounds, or 640 individual eighths, would be sold to patients for a current industry average price of $60 per moldy eighth.

However, if this same five-pound container were part of a 10lb batch, there would be only two containers total in that batch. During sampling, the same amount per container is taken (10-12 grams), but the contaminated container represents 40-60% of the test sample and will easily be picked up in the analysis, flagging the batch prior to sale.

Implications of increasing batch sizes from 10lbs to 100lbs are vast. The localized contamination typical of agricultural products such as cannabis will be overlooked with 100lb batch sizes. Without proper testing at this level, it’s more and more likely that contaminated flower hits the shelves at ATCs—and puts consumers at risk.

Consumer and Patient Safety is the Priority

When California switched to mandated, third-party testing, there was a (predictable) spike in failure rates due to contamination: A 20% total failure rate was documented in the first four months of the program alone.

The NJCRC correctly wants to ensure ATCs can meet adult-use demand without compromising patient supply (or patient quality), and so is mandating third-party testing. We support this decision.

However, due to years of incomplete and sporadic testing in the NJMMP, organizations simply will not be prepared for stricter third-party testing. The CRC has already mandated testing for operators producing concentrated products—we urge them to create a similar structure that incentivizes ATCs to switch to third-party testing well in advance of adult-use sales.

Reducing batch sizes back to 10lbs instead of 100lbs will help set our state’s vertically integrated ATCs up for success as they transition to adult-use sales. But most importantly of all, catching contamination before it reaches consumers will keep people safe—and protect the business interests of operators in New Jersey’s growing medical and adult-use industry.