In this interview, Josh Wurzer, President of SC Laboratories, delves into the analytical side of the cannabis industry and some of their cannabis paper product study research.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow and develop, a major issue remains at the forefront: testing. Although there are regulations, accreditations, and standards for testing laboratories to apply from other testing areas—such as the food, pharmaceutical, and environmental markets—there is still more that can be done to strengthen testing in the cannabis industry. Here, Josh Wurzer, President of SC Laboratories, discusses the analytical side of the cannabis industry and some of their cannabis paper product study findings.
Can you tell us a little about SC Laboratories, Inc. (SC Labs)? What led you to get into the analytical side of the cannabis industry (1,2)?
Josh Wurzer: We were founded by four cannabis industry professionals in 2010 in Santa Cruz, California and added a laboratory outside Portland, Oregon in 2016. I am a chemist and was interested in establishing a full-service analytical laboratory on par with the food testing and environmental laboratories around the Bay Area. Long story short, I pitched the idea to my future partners, Jeff Gray who was a successful medical cannabis cultivator and consultant, Alec Dixon who was working in the hydroponics industry and was a successful cultivator and consultant as well, and Ian Rice who was sort of born into the business as his father is Ben Rice, one of the original cannabis activist attorneys. We sat down for a beer and discussed the idea, and everyone was on board. We incorporated the business a few weeks later and our first testing contract was to test all the entries for the 2010 Emerald Cup. We’ve been testing for them every year since. Jeff has served as our CEO from the beginning and runs the business, Alec is the Director of client relations and is sort of the evangelist for what we are trying to accomplish as a company. I serve as President and primarily focus on laboratory operations.
In your report, Rolling Papers Tested for Heavy Metals and Pesticides (3), you analyzed paper products used for the inhalation of cannabis to see if they contained heavy metals and pesticides, what did you find from this study? Were any of the results surprising?
Wurzer: We found that some rolling papers were contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals in concentrations greater than what are allowed in other inhalable cannabis products in California. Some of these products were found to be contaminated at levels many times the state’s action limits for either pesticides or heavy metals. Two particularly heavily contaminated brands had over 100 times the allowable limits for lead. Overall, we tested 118 different types of rolling paper products, 11% of which failed for at least one heavy metal or pesticide according to the California standards for cannabis products. The level of contamination seemed to be related to the type of rolling paper product tested. Regular rolling papers appeared to be the cleanest with just 1 out of 70 of the samples we tested failing over the California action limits. However, 40% of the hemp wraps and 100% of the cellulose based rolling papers failed. I was not entirely surprised that we saw metals in some of the paper products. Several of the sources from which rolling papers are produced tend to accumulate heavy metals. While most of the samples were relatively clean, I was really surprised with the amount of heavy metal contamination we saw in some of the samples, particularly the cellulose rolling papers. I’m also a little surprised at the amount of pesticides we saw in some of the rolling paper products, specifically in the wraps.
How did SC Labs create the cannabis industry’s first testing and certification standards? Is the company continuing to form new standards?
Wurzer: We didn’t create the industry’s first testing standards. However, by the nature of being one of the first testing laboratories, we were sort of the first to do a lot things by default. Early on, there weren’t any testing standards or really any published academic work on how to perform any of this testing on cannabis. And, most of the instrument manufacturers wouldn’t even sell their products to us. We had to purchase all of our first equipment used from biotech auctions and resellers. Not that we could afford new equipment early on! It really was the wild west and cannabis is a uniquely difficult product to test in a lot of ways. So, we had to develop methods for sample prep and analysis from scratch. We also weren’t able to purchase many of the cannabinoids we wanted to measure as analytical standards early on. We had to get creative with workarounds and semi quant methods.
What kind of testing methods do you use for cannabis and hemp? Do you use similar potency testing, safety testing, and compliance testing between them? Is there a different approach that needs to be taken such as pre-harvest testing?
Wurzer: We can perform the same tests on both and for the most part the techniques and even the methods are the exact same. The only differences in the two are based in regulations required for the two analysis. For example, we are able to test hemp and hemp-based products from all around the country, so we have developed several methods to allow us to perform tests that comply with most of the other states that have testing requirements for hemp products. We don’t need to perform some of these tests on the cannabis we test in California or Oregon because the tests aren’t required for cannabis in those states and cannabis can’t leave the state. Also, hemp has pre-harvest testing requirements that we need to perform to qualify it as hemp that isn’t necessary for regular cannabis.
Are there any regulations that prevent hinder testing for cannabis and hemp?
Wurzer: While several states have testing requirements on the books for hemp-infused products on par with those required on cannabis, California has yet to get any laws on the books regulating the safety of hemp CBD-infused products. We’re hoping to see that change in this next legislative session.
Do you have any advice for those looking to get into the cannabis industry?
Wurzer: No matter what part of the industry you are looking to enter there is still room for people who put out a quality product and there is still a ton of room for innovation. I think there is still a lot of opportunity in the cannabis industry
What kind of policies or legal measures do you hope to see in the next few years for the cannabis industry in regard to testing and certifications?
Wurzer: I’d like to see the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) weigh in on the hemp industry and the hemp-infused CBD industry specifically. If we somehow get legalization for cannabis in that timeframe, which would be the real victory, I’d like to see the same. For our industry the ability to move across state lines and truly legalize the cannabis industry would be an obvious game changer. I think we’ll see regulators increase scrutiny and get a bit more sophisticated in their oversight of additives used in inhalable products.
What are the next steps in your analytical work?
Wurzer: We’re going to continue to expand our test offerings to help our customers produce better products and more efficiently. We really see ourselves as a partner in providing data insights that empower our customers.