Amid the growing acceptance and legalization of cannabis across the U.S., the state-by-state patchwork of safety regulations can leave marijuana consumers exposed to risks, Stateline reports. Under federal law, marijuana is illegal. So, it’s up to individual states to determine their own regulations and safety standards. Those inconsistent regulations are part of a broad debate about the cannabis industry. The 47 states that allow at least some cannabis use (cannabis is still illegal in Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska) have taken various approaches to issues such as the allowable amount of euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in a product. “We don’t really know what’s going on behind the doors of each and every lab in each and every state,” said Anna Schwabe, a cannabis geneticist and the director of cannabis education, research and development for 420 Organics. “I don’t really have any sense of or any level of comfort for the numbers that they’re putting out.” Most states require legal cannabis products to be tested by licensed laboratories for potency and for contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals. The lack of uniform testing standards has led to inconsistent lab results.
Labs have different methods of testing cannabis for potency and contamination, which may be part of the reason why there’s so much variation, Schwabe said. Some states run the labs and have a more standardized testing approach, while others offer licenses to independent labs. Some states have had to issue recalls due to products being cleared for sale despite the presence of harmful contaminants. In May 2022, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority suspended Scale Laboratories’ testing license after regulators uncovered more than 140 approved samples with mold, salmonella, or E. coli. A 64,000-pound marijuana recall in Michigan in 2021 was linked to at least 18 health complaints, including increased seizure activity, allergic reactions, paranoia, and a chemical burning sensation. According to a 2022 study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, state-level regulatory disparities pose an increased risk of contaminant exposure for immunocompromised people who could contract potentially fatal infections, while also causing confusion among cannabis growers, manufacturers, and testing laboratories. Some marijuana advocates argue that federal legalization could provide a solution by establishing consistent standards and harmonizing regulations across state lines. Along with potential research funding, they say, federal legalization could be a way to streamline the cannabis industry and enhance consumer safety.