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Reporter Mike Sugerman Puts Bay Area Medicinal Marijuana Dispensary Products To The Test

(KPIX 5) -- Medicinal marijuana is legal in California. But what are patients really buying when they shop at their local dispensary? Reporter Mike Sugerman conducted a random test.

Recently I was sick. Really sick. Life threatening sick. I had bacteria in my aorta.

And I had a lot of pills prescribed over that horrible period, including pot. Medicinal marijuana. It helped take away some of the awful, awful pain. Mostly I ate it. And it worked. Sometimes.

But sometimes I would get really high. Too high. Sometimes, taking the same amount, I wouldn't feel a thing. Didn't seem like other drugs, where the same amount had the same effect every time.

How come?

"Because of the federal status of cannabis right now, those federal agencies that do all of that monitoring are not allowed to do it," said Don Land. He is a professor of Chemistry at UC Davis, who works with the cannabis industry.

There's no FDA regulations because the federal government says it's illegal to sell or use the drug. "I  don't buy anything that hasn't been tested. I don't buy aspirin from someone on a street corner. I go to a pharmacy," said Land.

READ MORE: Strangest Expense Report Ever

Well, I go to legal marijuana dispensaries. Legal in California, anyway. And decided to do the testing myself that the government doesn't mandate. To find out what exactly is in the medicine I'm taking.

Medical Marijuana Test
KPIX 5 reporter Mike Sugerman goes to a dispensary to buy medical marijuana for our test. (CBS)

We bought different kinds of items at random at 12 random places in San Francisco and Oakland. We bought $600 worth of flowers, edibles, and what they call shatter, a kind of hash oil.

Then we took it to the Steep Hill Labs in Oakland. "The science is there, we've been doing this since 2008, we were the first,  we've developed very advanced methodologies," said David Lampach, the CEO of Steep Hill.

Steep Hill Labs is among the national leaders in testing. Used by California dispensaries which really want to know what they're selling. You've got to be careful.

Steep Hill Lab
Steep Hill Lab in Oakland. (CBS)

Some say they are testing, but Don Land said: "We have run into that where someone is in the back making numbers up, and putting them up in front, and we showed them they were very wrong."

Protocols here very different to say the least. And the results? "All the edibles missed their mark," said Dr. Kymron Decesare, chief research officer at Steep Hill. He told me nothing I was taking had anything to do with what was on the label."

The one that was the worst claimed to be 100 milligrams, it was 1.3. That was the Edipure brand. That's 98.7% off. Most others were only half the strength they claimed, or a quarter. Even gummy bears and lozenges in the same pack had great variations from one piece to another.

Even more disturbing, what they found in the buds that people smoke. Mold. And pesticides. 40% of the samples couldn't be sold in Colorado or Washington where there are limits. Decesare told us mold can be dangerous: "Even if there are no microtoxins in mold, there are potentially deadly molds like penicillin or aspergillums, deadly toxins that could kill people."

Medical Marijuana Mold
Mold found in a medical marijuana sample. (CBS)

And 15% of the hash oil had benzene, which is not approved for use in the human body. Bottom line? "So when I take this stuff, smoke it, whatever, I don't know what I'm getting?" I asked him. Decesare's response: "You don't know what you're getting."

I wish I did. It's my medicine. And if it really is medicine, shouldn't it be regulated? That's up to the politicians.


CBS Samples                                               Posted THC                           Measured THC

Qu-oobs, Indica                                            50mg                                     33mg

Cracker Jane's Popcorn                               50mg                                     15mg

Big Pete's Treats Cookies                           120mg                                    73mg

Compassion Edibles Cookies                     100mg                                    19mg

Medizen Little Sours                                   300mg                                    55mg

Edipure Summer Slices                              100mg                                      1.3mg

Greenlight Candy Gems                             100mg                                    32mg

Jolly Lolly Raspberry Lollipops                     50mg                                    39mg

Medizen Watermelon Gummies                  300mg                                   76mg


Statement from Compassion Edibles director Mickey Martin:

Thank you for taking the time to reach out to Compassion Edibles for a response to your investigative findings regarding medical cannabis foods and the current landscape of cannabis lab testing. As a growing and immature industry we have a lot of work to do to find better methods of providing accurately dosed and tested products to patients in need. Where the current edibles testing situation lacks is in the ability to perform the rigorous testing that is required for food products. These tests are done in in lab settings that are primarily designed to test approximate ratios of plant matter and extracted plant matter. Testing foods requires a far more extensive testing regimen than is able to be provided in current cannabis labs, in our opinion. Most labs that do food testing focus solely on that, and take a lot of time perfecting a process for each type of food product they are testing, whether it be to see if there is the percentage of juice listed on a label or the specified blend of coffee beans in a certain batch. It is unfortunate that in an effort to provide numbers for a dispensary or client in a timely fashion, the testing of edibles becomes very questionable.

We work with dozens of dispensary clients throughout the state who share our frustrations. Each has a tale about how their product testing, especially edibles, has been all over the map. As a business operator, it is difficult to have imperfect projections based on a small sampling, done often in rushed conditions, be used as a standard of validity when it is anything but. The industry is just not evolved enough to believe that these independent non-regulated labs that have no oversight or review, and who often share ownership with their clients, can be trusted to provide entirely accurate results. The variation of batch testing from lab to lab, and often even within the same lab on different days, is remarkable. It would almost be humorous if there was not the fact that many medical cannabis provider's livelihoods were at stake. As supposed gatekeepers, it is difficult to believe that there is so much allowable variation in process and method.

We have done blind testing of our raw materials at several cannabis labs at a time, only to have the results vary wildly. Submitting the same batch of butter or oil to different labs and getting results that could vary from 30-40% makes accurate dosing of edibles a challenge for any producer; and that is just the raw materials. When you get into the actual food substances testing the results are incredibly misleading and inconsistent.

A lab tests a sample size of a particular product, and not the entire product. Mixing batches of food is challenging enough to ensure a proper ratio of medicine goes into each product. The methods the labs are putting forth by testing only a very small sample of that food product is impossible to quantify.

So imagine if you had a cup of butter that you knew had approximately 4,000 mg of THC in it and you wanted to make cookies where the batch called for 40 pieces, meaning each cookie would have approximately 100mg of THC in them if mixed thoroughly. So mixing that cookie batter to ensure that each of the 40 cookies was adequately dosed would require a thorough mixing. Even with that there is no absolute, so our packages contain the phrase "app." Which is the medical abbreviation for "approximately," and we tell our clients there can be a 15% variation from product to product.

Now imagine that a lab takes one of those cookies (that were already challenging enough to ensure approximately 100mg of THC were in each cookie) and broke off just a small piece for testing. Now they are asking you to not only ensure that each cookie has approximately 100mg of THC, but that each 1/100th of a piece of cookie had that exact ratio (app. 1mg).

You can see how what is being put forth as accurate testing in that respect is nearly impossible; and that is just a cookie.

The same process that is used for cookies is being used for each type of food product, and the same sampling and accurate measurement of the whole product is not reflected in the results. Add to that the evolving methodology of these labs, and the ever changing work load that results in often rushed results to meet a deadline, and you can see how there may be inconsistent and unreliable data being produced.

We are in close connection with several labs who do testing for the industry, as well as the dispensaries and providers they serve. We have consistently heard the same complaints throughout. The labs provide a certain aura of responsibility in the political environment, as those who provide cannabis can say "See. It was tested by the lab." But most industry insiders put very little faith in the actual results provided because they have all experienced strange and bizarre results from any number of labs. Until there is a standard truly third party lab that has the capability to do the type of testing needed for food products, there will continue to be a great fluctuation of results where cannabis foods are concerned.

What we know is that we have provided quality, safe, and affordable cannabis food products to thousands of cannabis patients in the state, and have gotten incredible feedback on the consistency and efficacy of our product lines. Until cannabis lab testing is a more reliable resource, in addition to testing our active ingredients with an array of labs, we also do bioassay testing with patients to ensure the products are consistent. We are pleased with the response we have had from the patients we serve.

 Statement from Pete Jr. at Big Pete's Treats 

We slow cook our butter with trim and buds this allows for a wide spectrum of cannabinoids to be extracted.  We use no butane or hash oil. We are finding that the medicinal properties out much greater with our "old school" butter recipes. We test our butter for THC content and know exactly how much butter is in each cookie. As the cookies are in the oven they are losing THC. This is why the THC levels can be lower than stated in the packaging.

Big Pete's Treats is a family owned business out of Santa Cruz. We always strive to be ahead of the curve and continue to work closely with SC Labs to maintain a consistent dose. You can find us one Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @bigpetestreats

Statement from Angela at Medizen:

As I checked the end of September I remember exactly what happened with the products (that KPIX picked up.)

That was the week I attempted to use a new co2 oil vendor.  In the past year that MediZen INC has been alive I have changed oil vendors 4 times! Due to inconsistencies mainly.  The week of those results I attempted to use a new vendor because our latest vendor has higher prices than I want to pay.  I gave another guy a shot at being our supplier and he falsely reported his meds.  It happens. How can you trust that someone's lab reports are valid before making a purchase other than testing them yourself right?  Unfortunately I let that one slip past me. I took his lab reports and parted ways with the hopeful knowledge of its accuracy.  A week later I made a drop at the lab and was furious 24 hours later when I saw the lab report come back so low.  Everything left from that batch was removed from inventory and the week later I went back to the expensive vendor I trust, and met at the laboratory we use so at least I know he is credible.

Since then the lab has provided us with a formula chart to modify our recipe if our vendor's product fluctuates.  After reopening production everything has improved! It's just so unfortunate a handful of bad products got in circulation and this is the result.

I now know that this has nothing to do with the lab, although that was my first initial uproar when I received the call.  The fault was my own for trusting a new vendor.  It's very sad to say how shady business has become in this industry! Everyone is just trying to lie cheat and steal to win.  September 15 I discovered my ex business partner was still using my name and brand without approval and had forged numerous invoices collecting cash I had no knowledge of.  I have recently began to recover from the damage as well as the business but I can honestly say in the midst of all the valleys I've been through lately I allowed another snake to cross my path.

We are trying to position ourselves ahead of the curve and provide a quality medicine for all our patients.  I've spent thousands of dollars at labs modifying recipes and just as much money modifying our labels.  We want our consumers to know that MediZen INC is way more than just another edible company; we are patients, and believers of its medical effects too.  Be patient with us if you have lost faith.  MediZen INC has had numerous changes all with the intent of doing it the right way and being the best at it.  We are still learning and we are still growing despite all the setbacks.  All I can say is if we had a financial backing like some of these companies we would be the one and only gummy candy in every collective.  There are big brands out there now with millions of dollars and they chose to not do things correctly.  I have shut down productions once to fix potency issues and I will do it as many more times as it takes!  This is beyond me and my employees, the consumers deserve best.

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