Hawaii Marijuana Testing Conundrum

Earlier this month, the Hawaii Department of Health issued interim regulations for the state’s new medical marijuana program, just weeks before groups will be submitting their applications for one of eight vertically integrated dispensary licenses. 

As we’ve written before, Hawaii’s medical cannabis program has its quirks. It restricts intrastate transportation of cannabis, which means no cannabis can be transported between Hawaii’s various islands. This will mean that each vertically integrated licensee must do everything on its own — from seed to sale — on their designated island.

Hawaii and Medical MarijuanaHawaii also has established detailed product testing requirements for pesticides, residual solvents, and microbiological heavy metal contaminants. Product testing has become a hot button issue in the Cannabis industry and so it is critical that testing requirements be set just right. 

Hawaii will be setting limits for residual solvents in cannabis extracts. Solvents are used to separate the THC and terpenes from the plant matter, and minuscule amounts can remain in any eventual concentrated cannabis product produced. Hydrocarbon residues found in solvents are potentially harmful to your health, which is why many companies avoid solvent extractions and produce their concentrates using CO2. The problem is that after the extraction process is completed the extraction equipment requires cleaning and degreasing, and many cleaning agents contain hydrocarbons such as hexane. Hawaii’s regulations limit hexane to ten parts per million which may be low enough so that the CO2 extracts could pick up the hexane left over on the extraction equipment and in turn cause the concentrated cannabis products to fail the required tests even though no solvents were used in the extraction process itself. 

Hawaii could also run into issues with its heavy metal contaminant limits. Massachusetts initially set its heavy metal testing requirements so low that many cannabis products failed simply because the plants from which they came contained ambient levels of heavy metals. Hawaii, on the other hand, may have set its heavy metal contaminant limits too high. A leading reference standard—the American Herbal Products Association’s Cannabis Monograph—recommends people consume no more than six to ten micrograms of lead each day. By comparison, the Food and Drug Administration takes regulatory action against children’s candy manufacturers for anything above .1 ppm. Hawaii’s limit for lead is set at six parts per million (6ppm), which equates to six micrograms of lead per gram of product. In other words, a Hawaii cannabis patient could surpass the AHPA’s recommended exposure limit by consuming just one gram of cannabis a day. Because Hawaii’s 6ppm limit applies regardless of the type of cannabis product, someone consuming a heavier cannabis product, such as an oil or a tincture, could potentially ingest several dozen grams of cannabis products each day, blowing well past the recommended exposure limit.

The biggest problem we see with Hawaii’s cannabis testing requirements ties in with its ban on inter-island transport. This ban means that each island is going to need its own testing facility. Detecting six parts per million of lead or ten parts per million of hexane requires expensive, state of the art laboratory equipment, and outfitting a lab with the mass spectrometers and liquid chromatographs needed for this sort of testing could cost several million dollars. In the non-cannabis agricultural product testing world, most samples are shipped across state or even international borders. In Hawaii, however, the restriction on intrastate transportation of cannabis applies to all forms of cannabis, regardless of whether it is finished product intended for sale to patients or samples for laboratory testing. Given the cost of these labs, we are concerned many Hawaii cannabis licensees will have no option for submitting their cannabis to state mandated tests. 

With license deadlines looming, Hawaii cannabis licensing applicants will soon be forced to demonstrate how they will comply with regulations that are virtually impossible to comply with. We are counting on Hawaii’s regulators not allowing the state’s testing rules to clip the wings off Hawaii’s medical cannabis program before it even takes flight.