The California cannabis community anticipates the implementation of new testing regulations that will affect the farthest reaches of the cannabis galaxy— and uncover contaminants coming from some unlikely sources. While your industrial bud trimmer won’t need to pee in a cup, it could cause you some serious headaches as California phases in contaminant testing throughout 2018.
Cannabis is subject to contamination throughout the growing, curing and processing stages. There are numerous—and sometimes unexpected—sources of contamination along the way. Predictable sources of contaminants are mold and pesticides such as insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. In concentrate products, testing may reveal residual hydrocarbons from improper extraction techniques. And ethanol is a frequent offender in concentrates as well, much to the chagrin of butane-bashing CO2 advocates who winterize their oil with ethanol. Unsuspected contamination may stem back to equipment. Extraction equipment can retain pesticides from previous runs of contaminated material, and even newly filled solvent tanks can contain pesticides from previous extractions when they return from the gas supplier.
Dirty lubricants and sticky bud trimmer blades
Bud trimmers aren’t above the fray when it comes to contamination. The lubricants that keep most industrial marijuana trimmers happy can contain hydrocarbon agents that are unacceptable based on testing rules, and these chemicals can potentially contaminate your crop.
We here at Triminator strive to produce the very best industrial bud trimmers (and occasionally toot our own horn). Our lubricant-free design means we’ve got you covered for regulations. The shear band on our industrial dry bud trimmers is made of a proprietary plastic rather than metal. Our wet bud trimmer has a patented resin repel system using pure atomized water to prevent buildup.That means they need no lubricant and far less cleaning. Depending on the moisture content of your flower, our industrial dry bud trimmers can run a full 8-hour shift before they need cleaning, while other designs require disassembly and/or cleaning every hour. Our wet bud trimmers can run all day too.
So what’s in these potentially problematic lubricants? And which ones are the offenders? Basically, any lube that contains a propellant likely contains propane, butane or petroleum ether. Good ol’ PAM Non-Stick is the biggest offender and, believe it or not, some growers are still using it to lubricate bud trimmer blades. It may be easy, but anything that comes in a pressurized, spray-style dispenser should be avoided.
PAM Non-Stick is considered acceptable for consumption by ingestion, but information on how much hydrocarbon propellant is in that can largely remains a mystery, despite FDA approval. ConAgra Foods, the maker of PAM, confirms that the product your mom was using your whole childhood contains butane and also the more-volatile iso-butane. Some third-parties claim it contains petroleum and propane as well. It’s fine for a quick spray of the muffin tin – though kind of gross – but the problem comes with when butane is inhaled rather than eaten.
“Actionable levels” for hydrocarbons in marijuana (i.e., you’re busted) are lower for smokeable and vaporizable products. California has set the limit for butane at 800 parts-per-million for smokeable and vaporizable products. That’s lower than the pharmaceutical industry standard by a factor of five.
If you’re using any marijuana trimmers that need lubricant (unlike Triminator’s), make sure it’s not in a pressurized can. Dr. Bronner’s coconut oil is a good choice, and hemp oil makes sense for sure. And god forbid, don’t bring WD-40, lithium grease or anything else you find at Home Depot in contact with surfaces that will contact your cannabis. Our design team still maintains that the best bud trimmer lubricant is no lubricant at all.
Big problems on the horizon in Cali – and everywhere
Where California goes, the rest of the country often follows. The new Californian testing regulations taking effect in 2018 are expected to be the most stringent to date—and they’ll likely prove disruptive. After neglecting to regulate their 20-year-old medical cannabis industry, the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Cannabis Control took the time to do it right— and may have gone a little overboard. They’ve consulted with leading testing laboratories, examined other states’ safety programs, and asked for feedback from industry experts.
While some may argue (correctly) that Cali weed is delicious and awesome, it could also be bad for you long term. It seems there are lots of pesticides and molds riding along with the crazy quantities of THC. Steep Hill Labs recently estimated that 84% of California’s cannabis “isn’t fit for human consumption.” Jaws dropped. The status quo may seem okay, but it’s not. Let’s remember that insecticides are chemicals designed to kill small animals— and some patients are immunocompromised.
But “test,” as you may know, is a four-letter word. And while testing is important, growers, processors—and even laboratories—have knots in their stomachs. If Steep Hill Labs is right, and the majority of California’s cannabis “isn’t fit for human consumption,” the new regulations will upend the market and disrupt supply. Lori Ajax, head of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, estimates there are only 30 to 40 laboratories that will be applying for licenses— statewide! Expect bottlenecks and gridlock worse than any SoCal freeway.
If Steep Hill is correct, the chaos of an 80% supply drop is hard to imagine. Patients will be without their medicine. Recreational enthusiasts won’t engage the legal cannabis infrastructure, choosing the black market instead. The too-few accredited laboratories will be backlogged and stressed. And some growers will likely be under the table when entire crops fail pesticide testing and head off to the incinerator.
Expect a situation similar to Oregon circa October 2016. As the country’s first mandatory testing program went into effect, the supply chain slowed, sputtered and nearly broke altogether. Many products, particularly concentrates, didn’t comply with the new, longer list of banned contaminants. The accredited labs were backlogged with work. Prices jumped wildly while dispensaries hemorrhaged money and laid off staff. Growers were left in limbo, awaiting testing results that, for many, proved to be devastating.
As reported by Leafly, Steep Hill Labs has found it’s often not the growers “fault.” They aren’t necessarily using banned pesticides: the pesticides are present in the clones that have come down from the mother plants. Pesticides used when developing genetics can be found in “actionable quantities” generations later! So, the problem is hard to identify and even harder to control.
The most common cannabis and cannabis concentrate contaminants
- Myclobutanil (a fungicide)
- Bifenazate (the spider mite killer with the trade name Floramite)
- Paclobutrazol (used for growth regulation and fungus control)
- Malathion (an insecticide and probable carcinogen)
- Synthetic pyrethroids (insecticides mimicking the chemical structure of chrysanthemum flower extracts)
- Mycotoxins (mold metabolites)
- Ethanol (grain alcohol)
- Hydrocarbon residuals (butane, propane, hexane)
Required testing frequency and how to avoid trouble
To avoid a disaster, voluntarily test your crops when they’re in veg. Even if you carefully avoid pesticides and banned substances in your grow room, the presence of phantom pesticides coming from clones could bite you. Testing is a drag, and it sets you back money that’d be more enjoyably spent elsewhere. But, for around $200, assuring the cleanliness of your stock can help you sleep well at night.
Pesticide screening is difficult because the “actionable levels” are so low. Crops head to the incinerator because of parts-per-billion rather than parts-per-million. Make sure to find an ISO 17025 accredited lab certified for pesticide testing processes in particular. At the beginning of the testing rollout in California, the state will allow temporary licenses for labs that are not yet ISO 17025 accredited in order to deal with the massive amount of work that will backlog. The labs will have a few months to get that certification, but the ones who have their acts together now are superior. Note that labs can be ISO accredited for potency testing and hang an “ISO accredited” sign out there, but pesticide testing is more difficult. They should be certified for those processes in particular.
- Find a good ISO 17025 lab
- Voluntarily test your crop even if you don’t use pesticides
- Don’t spray weird lubricants on your bud trimmers!
- Buy a Triminator – wink wink – a lubricant-free industrial dry trimmer
- Hold on for what may be a bumpy ride in 2018