OCS to begin temporary THC testing program in 2024

| David Brown

The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) will be testing high-THC cannabis products sold in Ontario as part of a new pilot program launching in January. 

The new program will identify cannabis flower products for secondary testing if OCS’s quality assurance team determines it falls within their threshold for “high THC.” 

The cannabis wholesaler is keeping the specific threshold secret to help protect against producers intentionally seeking to come in under.

The program will only apply to new SKUs entering the OCS warehouse and will not currently include products sold through flow-through.

The OCS will cover the cost of testing, which will be done through a third-party lab, Sigma Analytical Services. Any products within an acceptable range of variance (± 15%) will be released for sale. (Note, “± 15%” refers to the variance from the label claim, it does not refer to actual percentage points. For example, a product labeled at 20% THC could be allowed to fall with about 17-23% THC, because 15% of 20% is 3%).

Producers whose product falls outside of that range will have five days to dispute any results that find their product’s true THC level is not aligned with what is stated on the label. 

If disputed, the OCS will send it back to the same third-party lab for more testing. If it fails again, the product will be sent back to the producer at their cost. 

The issue of high THC products, primarily cannabis flower, is contentious in the cannabis industry, and not limited to Canada or to the regulated industry.

While research often shows that the THC percentage in most cannabis flower is in the high teens to low twenties, increasingly, many cannabis flowers on the market advertise having well over 30 percent, something considered statistically improbable but not impossible.

The goal, says OCS, is to not only check against specific label claims but also to evaluate the larger claims and concerns that many cannabis products, especially cannabis flower products, have highly inflated THC levels on their labels.

“We look forward to leveraging the data from this initiative to further engage government and industry partners, and to support the development of broader testing and sampling standards as we enable a vibrant cannabis marketplace,” said OCS COO Denny Palarchio in a memo sent out to industry. 

Such instances have prompted many in the industry, from labs to producers, consumers, and retailers, to call on the federal and even provincial governments to do more to ensure that THC levels reported on labels are accurate. 

Earlier this year, Rob O’Brien, the CEO and CSO of Supra Research and Development in Kelowna, BC, shared his own independent testing results online from 46 different cannabis products he purchased from BC Cannabis Stores.

Earlier in 2023, Health Canada announced it was launching a data-gathering program on cannabis markets in Canada that will include sampling and testing of both legal and illegal products currently in the market.

As part of the program, Health Canada’s Regulatory Operations and Enforcement Branch (ROEB) Cannabis Laboratory will randomly purchase cannabis products from authorized retailers in Canada. It will also work with various law enforcement agencies to test samples of illicit cannabis products. 

Health Canada routinely inspects cannabis facilities and conducts secondary testing on cannabis, but maintains it does not inspect cannabis labs that provide the results used by these cannabis producers.

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