Many cannabis companies inflate THC numbers. Here’s how California can stop them

California regulations and consumer habits emphasize the THC content of cannabis products. This encouraged malicious actors to manipulate lab results and sell their products at a higher price.


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Guest commentary written by Jeff Journey

Jeff Journey is the CEO of SC Labs, a cannabis and hemp testing company, and a veteran of the US Air Force.


Most Californians can simply walk into their local licensed cannabis dispensary and purchase a variety of products. Few consumers read the label of every product and decide what to buy. Too often they don’t even know what they are buying.

Research shows that a product’s price, THC percentage, and recommendations from a budtender are the top things consumers look for. There has been a disproportionate focus on THC percentage – partly due to the inaccurate notion that potency directly correlates to quality, and partly due to lack of awareness of the important role of terpenes and other cannabinoids.

A lack of knowledge is normal for new industries, but not in markets for more mature substances like alcohol. Most people don’t just focus on the alcohol content when buying a bottle of wine. Instead, they consider varietal, region, flavor profile and, of course, price.

Cannabis isn’t here yet, and it certainly doesn’t help that, in legal markets, regulators only require companies to disclose THC and CBD percentages on recreational and medicinal products. This inadvertently confirms the consumer belief that THC is king.

This emphasis on the potency of THC has prompted cannabis companies (brands, growers, distributors) to outsmart the system, especially when the economy is tough for legal operators. If consumers remain obsessed with the potency of THC, some companies are willing to cheat customers because they can charge more. High-THC cannabis products command a higher price, which has encouraged bad-actor cannabis companies to seek out similar bad-actor testing labs that are willing to use bad science or commit a crime. fraud to manipulate the results. The industry refers to this practice as “lab warehousing”.

Regulations generally require that the THC content on the label be within a relative percentage difference of the actual test results. In California, that threshold is 10%, allowing some labs to verify results or brands to get creative with their label claims.

These shady practices have led to a systemic problem of power inflation that is detrimental to everyone involved. Lab purchases have often allowed the worst brands and labs to perform better, while high-efficiency brands and science-based labs have suffered. This creates an unnecessary and dangerous cycle of misinformation where the customer is at risk. As a result, power inflation has spread like wildfire because there has been little accountability for cheaters – until now.

Lawsuits have recently been filed in Arkansas and California claiming companies misled customers about the THC content of their products. These combinations may fail because they’re not based on real science, but they help shine a light on a problem that needs immediate attention.

Corners of the regulated cannabis market now operate as an illicit market. California Attorney General Rob Bonta recently announced a year-long program to eradicate illegal cultivation, but the public needs to be tough on this issue too. California lawmakers should institute regulations that support a system of validation of lab results by requiring well-designed comparative studies and recalls when products fail. All cannabis test results should also be made public.

These measures would ensure transparency and safety for consumers and lead to consequences for companies that cheat.

Consumers know the exact level of each vitamin in their food, the amount of alcohol in each drink, and the full calorie breakdown of a can of soda. Cannabis shouldn’t be any different, but that’s not the reality today – even in our regulated market. This must change.

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