Public Health Must be Centerpiece of Cannabis “Green Rush”

John Taylor
Founder & President, SMART Cannabis/Next Generation Farming, Inc.

The cannabis tsunami is already crashing violently against the shores of the Golden State. With voters having approved first medical and subsequently recreational marijuana in our state, and an historic legal launch date of January 1st, every Cheech, Chong, and Mary Jane is jumping aboard the cannabis bandwagon.

These are, indeed, pioneering times here in California and across the nation, but also unchartered territory with more questions than answers. So, as we enter these unchartered waters during this “Green Rush,” it’s critically important that we place one issue above all others in the cannabis growth process: the health and well-being of patients and consumers.

We are fortunate that state leaders and key stakeholder groups have begun to address the health and welfare of Californians head-on from day one. Governor Brown’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, headed by Chief Lori Ajax, is putting the important pieces into place, and engaging the right stakeholders, to ensure regulations, rules, and requirements are strictly adhered to. The California Cannabis Industry Association has also been continuing its important role of uniting, informing, and engaging the industry’s vendors, testing facilities, retailers, cultivators, lobbyists and advertisers alike.

As an engineer by trade, I serve our company, Smart Cannabis’ primary subsidiary, Next Generation Farming, manufacturing greenhouses for some of the largest cannabis agricultural grows in the state and nation. To me, getting the specs, floorplan, and schematics is critical to success – and that is something that should apply to all of our efforts during this frenzy. Setting high standards at the beginning and throughout the process for the grow is essential.

Too many lives are at stake – and could be in jeopardy – if we aren’t establishing sound, safe practices for development and distribution of this new-to-market (legal) product that is coming to a corner retailer near you.  There are measures all of us can and should take to do this right from the start:

  • Create a regular and open dialogue – and partnership – with the surrounding community. Know your elected officials, know what concerns constituents may have, foster relationships with key stakeholders. Acting as a good neighbor involves active listening and, in some cases, working to mitigate issues.
  • Demand the safest, most contained, and protected environments for cannabis growth. Keeping facilities secure and monitored is important to prevent theft, but also tampering and contamination of the product. Constructing a state-of-the-art greenhouse with proper ventilation and automation helps to properly surveil and care for the product, prevent over watering, and maintain inventory and output estimations. Lastly, contained growth allows for excellent quality control. When it comes to cannabis, quality practices will ensure a safe product for consumers. Guaranteeing safe product requires quality assuredness testing at a reputable lab. There is no FDA in cannabis like there is in the rest of the food and drug supply in the U.S.
  • People, families, lives – benefit from “smart” cultivation and distribution. Automation in greenhouses doesn’t reduce jobs, it aids in proficiency. With trained employees using smart resources to assist in the efficient growing process, they are better able to ensure that the final product is the best it can be. This is especially important to ensure safe cannabis for production of medical cannabis or in the production of CBD oils for health. Medical cannabis must be tested and producing a consistent product is crucial for positive outcomes for medicinal use.

On that last note, I consulted with Steep Hill, the world’s leading cannabis science and technology company. They test cannabis for potency, contaminants and pesticides which is key to protecting public health and safety.  “We developed the first cannabis potency test in 2008, to assist medical patients to actually know what was in the product that they were buying, since there were no labeling requirements in California at the time,” said Jmîchaele Keller, President and CEO of Steep Hill.

Keller further shared three important things to be mindful of when it comes to cannabis and public health:

  1. You don’t know what’s in your cannabis unless you are given a test report with your purchase. Labels may or may not be accurate in the world of cannabis. If you walk into your neighborhood pharmacy, you can rest assured that FDA has verified accuracy, but that is not true with cannabis – unless you have a test report. CBD is frequently used as a health product – The Journal of the American Medical Association has recently issued a report about concern of accuracy in labeling on CBD products for example.
  2. Many will claim that nobody has ever died from cannabis, but contaminents on cannabis have been responsible for many illnesses for patients in a variety of states. Cannabis is a plant, just like spinach and lettuce, and attracts the same public safety challenges (e coli, salmonella, deadly molds, to name a few). Immuno-suppressed patients are especially at risk for use of non-tested cannabis. At UC Davis last year, several patients were adversely affected by a deadly form of mold, aspergillus niger, after smoking untested cannabis. One of them died, others were made very ill. See the Dr. Thompson UC Davis Patient Study for detailed information.
  3. Approximately 80% of California cannabis has been showing up to Steep Hill labs failing the “Oregon test” for adverse pesticide levels. Steep Hill completed a study a year ago on the California cannabis supply and discovered that 80% of what was tested would fail Oregon pesticide limits for safe cannabis. At the time, Oregon had the most stringent limits. California is expected to release their pesticide testing requirements this week, and it is expected they may be even more stringent than Oregon. This will be a wake-up call to the cannabis industry to make sure the product they offer to consumers will need to be tested to be safe.

California is at an auspicious intersection – and the whole world is watching. We have a golden opportunity to grow cannabis in a responsible, effective manner – something other states have unfortunately failed to achieve or, at a minimum, have confronted serious challenges and some mis-steps. California has had the opportunity to learn from these mistakes. We can make a difference if we learn from these lessons, set high standards and plan for a solid foundation that will ensure safety and health for our citizens.  Together, we can see to it that our state sets the standard for ourselves and the states that follow –  growing and greening our communities in ways that change lives for the better, and for the long haul.

For more information about Steep Hill and cannabis testing, see here.

For more information about John Taylor and Smart Cannabis, see here.

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