Contributing Labs

The Problem

Over the course of the last year, as the regulated marijuana market in Washington state has come into its own, it has become increasingly evident that not all cannabis laboratories produce the same results. Inter-laboratory comparisons have revealed that the same material tested at multiple labs will sometimes yield different results. Some of these differences are not random, but systematic, and hard to explain given that all labs are accredited to a set of minimum standards. What's most concerning about this issue is the tendency of some labs to provide results that are apparently skewed in favor of client-driven desires. Significant pressure is exerted on the labs by their clients to report higher cannabinoid concentrations and lower failure rates than would be obtained by an unbiased assessment. If what the data indicate is true, that some labs have -- wittingly or unwittingly -- been bent by market pressure to provide biased results, it constitutes a serious breach in quality assurance policy to the detriment of the market's legitimacy and poses a risk to consumer health and safety. As the scientists of our industry, we as cannabis labs are beholden to the public safety concerns that justify our role in the marketplace, and we are duty-bound to provide the truth about what we test regardless of market pressures. It is in this context that the labs have formed an association which will act both as a working group to improve our methods and outcomes and as a self-regulatory organization to work in cooperation with state-regulatory agencies toward monitoring the labs, identifying wrongdoers and holding them accountable for their actions.

The Solution

On March 7th, 2016, a majority of Washington state cannabis labs met in Ellensburg to formally express our concerns and unite as a common voice. Also in attendance were representatives of the Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) and RJLee group (the third-party auditor of lab accreditations). Everyone in attendance was in agreement: that consistency and repeatability of results, both within and between labs, is desirable to all interested parties. The data we produce for our industry is valuable, and inaccuracies within that data diminish its utility. As a critical stakeholder group, we stand to gain from collaborative efforts to understand the sources of error and bias within our collective data set, and to take appropriate steps to minimize such burdens. As a start, the labs have agreed to participate in voluntary proficiency testing; a round robin test of a sample solution provided by Emerald Scientific. The proficiency test will set a baseline for us, and will be just one part of a multi-threaded and ongoing investigation of the labs and their outcomes. With support of the WSLCB, DOH, WSDA, and RJLee, among others, we will come to an ever enhancing awareness of our sources of error and bias, enabling us to take appropriate mitigation steps.