Cannabis Testing Laboratories (CTL) Becomes First ISO-Accredited Hemp Lab in Nebraska

In a press release published last week, Cannabis Testing Laboratories (CTL) announced they have achieved ISO 17025 accreditation as part of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture requirements for cannabis labs operating in the state. CTL is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Doane University, a liberal arts college in Crete, Nebraska.

Dr. Arin Sutlief (in back) and Dr. Andrea Holmes preparing samples for cannabinoid analysis by HPLC.

According to the press release, CTL will be renting space on Doane University’s campus for its primary laboratory. Doane University is working on an effort to foster innovation where they create spaces on campus for entrepreneurial startups. Dr. Andrea Holmes, Director of Cannabis Studies and Professor of Chemistry at Doane University, is the founder of CTL.  Dr. Arin Sutlief is the director of the laboratory as well, which means CTL is led by an all-female management team.

Dr. Holmes says hemp testing should be a priority for the state’s new industry. “Being the first ISO-accredited and state approved cannabis testing laboratory in Nebraska will allow farmers, processors, vendors, and even consumers of CBD and hemp products to have local access to high-quality and reliable testing,” says Dr. Holmes. “For farmers, continuous testing is of utmost importance so they don’t grow hemp over 0.3% total THC levels, at which point hemp is categorized as marijuana, which is currently illegal in Nebraska. Consumers of CBD products will also benefit from private testing as oftentimes CBD-infused products don’t actually contain what the label says.”

Hemp weighed for sample preparation for cannabinoid analysis by HPLC.

CTL will operate independently of the university, but the lab will be a resource for faculty and students. There will be internship and experiential learning opportunities available at the lab for students. In addition to that, the lab will also help faculty that teach cannabis-related courses.

Last year, Doane University announced the launch of their Professional Cannabis Certificate Program. In June of this year, the university expanded their course offerings in cannabis, with seven courses available this fall. The addition of CTL to the Crete, Nebraska campus will benefit those new courses and provide more resources to those in the certificate program.

“I am proud to be one of the creators of a fully accredited cannabis testing lab that provides our farmers and processors reliable and quick local testing of hemp,” says Dr. Sutlief. “CTL is among the first ISO-certified cannabis testing labs in the U.S. that is a subsidiary of a university. Innovation, research, entrepreneurship and education will be the central pillars of CTL as we set ourselves apart to become leaders in cannabis testing not only in Nebraska and the Midwest but also nationally.”

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KCA Laboratories Awarded Hemp Testing Contracts for Massachusetts, North Dakota

In a press release sent out last week, KCA Laboratories announced they have been awarded hemp testing contracts for Massachusetts and North Dakota. They received the notices through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and through the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ Hemp Program that they were awarded the contract.

KCA Laboratories is an independent, third-party testing laboratory based in Nicholasville, Kentucky that specializes in hemp testing.

According to Ryan Bellone, Commercial Director for KCA Labs, they started the company to focus strictly on hemp testing. “The team here at KCA Labs is grateful for the opportunity to analyze North Dakota’s and Massachusetts’ hemp samples for Total THC content,” says Bellone. “We started KCA Labs to elevate the quality of testing in the hemp industry. It has been our goal from inception to service regulators, farmers, processors, and retailers with trusted results. KCA is excited to work with North Dakota and Massachusetts as well as the farmers and processors they serve.”

Bellone says they have started seeing a backlog of samples in a number of states for hemp regulatory compliance testing. “For years, a lack of laboratory testing was a bottleneck for the industry and now that the market has more options, testing turnaround time should not be a barrier.”

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The Changing Landscape of CBD in the UK

Reports estimate that up to 8 million people in the UK use CBD for its variety of wellness benefits. The market is currently worth £300 million, a figure which is expected to more than triple in the next five years.

Sales of CBD already outstrip those of Vitamin C at £301 million vs £119 million and given that almost 90 percent of users in the UK purchase CBD online, new investments into omnichannel and e-commerce capabilities are likely to lead to even more growth.

Yet, for all this excitement, the truth is the UK’s CBD industry is facing a bit of a roadblock.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

Until this year, CBD has been in a period of regulatory uncertainty and the industry faced understandable criticism when high profile cannabis probes found that over half of the most popular CBD oils did not contain the amount of CBD promised on the label. On February 13, 2020, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) unveiled new plans to better regulate the industry and announced a deadline of March 31, 2021 for the submission of a valid application for novel food licence for businesses selling food and food supplements containing CBD in the UK. Contained in the announcement was a warning to all CBD companies that failure to comply may result in products being taken off the shelves.

Consumers are also advised by the FSA to “think carefully” about taking CBD, and not to consume more than 70mg a day, making the UK the first country in the world to set recommended limits for CBD consumption, despite no scientific basis for the 70mg recommended limit.

Whilst it is undeniable that the CBD market requires some form of regulation and standards need to be raised for CBD products, to ensure consumers are receiving safe, legal and quality products, this will be a complex and costly process. CBD companies, particularly smaller CBD brands, will need to ensure they have the necessary infrastructure, expertise and resources to meet this deadline.

The deadline is fast approaching, and no extension has been granted despite of the difficulties caused by COVID-19. This will put all businesses under pressure, as the process for applying for Novel Food status requires supplying a large amount of data from rigorous testing. For larger players, this will likely be nothing more than a costly inconvenience, but for smaller, nascent businesses, these costs may put their longevity at risk. There are hundreds of CBD start-ups which have done great work to future-proof their businesses and create safe, high-quality products. Now, instead of preserving costs to try and stay afloat during the pandemic, these businesses must put a significant amount of precious resource and funds into finalising their applications in time.

Improving end user confidence in CBD products and understanding the process from seed to shelf is crucially important in this developing industry, however, I firmly believe these regulations are suffocating the market. I fear that on April 1, 2021, many smaller firms who haven’t managed to achieve Novel Food status yet have a superior product, will suddenly find themselves unable to legally trade.

On the other hand, there is the argument that the FSA ruling may increase the importation of CBD products from firms based outside of Europe. So far, the large cannabis firms in North America, which have the budget and expertise to meet FSA standards, have held back on importing CBD products to the UK. This may well have to do with the slightly dubious legal status CBD has so far had in the UK, so it will be interesting to see whether this changes in April next year and which players will enter the market. The CBD market will continue to grow and diversify but it will be essential that this leads to increasing consumer choice rather than confusion.

In my opinion, the only way the UK will be able to fully harness the potential of CBD is to create an independent, self-sufficient industry that not only helps consumers but contributes to the wider economy through jobs, skills and investment. The pandemic has done well to put a spotlight on the huge access issues cannabis patients face in the UK, bolstering the case to ‘onshore’ the industry.

Whilst this would require a streamlining and simplification of the licensing laws around growing cannabis, the development of a UK-based industry would have endless benefits. Not only would medical cannabis patients see improved access to their medication, CBD firms would no longer have to ship oil in from the dominating wholesale nations such as Poland, Czechia and Italy, this in turn having huge economic benefits. The development of a UK industry should involve the creation of a new regulatory system specifically designed for cannabis products and preferably for a new regulatory body, similar to the Office of Medicinal Cannabis in the Netherlands, to oversee all cannabis regulation, licensing, importation and approvals. This would mean a move away from the current solution of forcing CBD products into the Novel Food category and subjecting them to inappropriate regulations which will soon begin to smother the market with unnecessary red tape.

People are increasingly turning to more natural health and wellness solutions, so as Britons become better informed about CBD products and as the market matures, demand will certainly increase. Yet with both Brexit and standardisation of cannabinoid regulations occurring in parallel, the future and scale of the CBD market is still to be determined. A huge UK market could potentially help push it in a positive direction, facilitating processes for CBD producers.

The cannabis industry is resilient and until this point, has managed to grow at an exponential rate despite regulatory uncertainty. As acceptance and demand continues to increase, so the case for an independent UK industry will strengthen and regulatory roadblocks finally overcome.

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Could CBD Standards Become Global?

Here is the good news: There are beginning to be regional- and country-specific guidelines on at least one widely grown cannabis crop internationally. This includes a range of regs on the medical side (GMPs) but they are also expanding for the “other” cannabis crop too. Namely, hemp.

Now, here is the bad news: The regulation that is developing in different regions is frustratingly not uniform, and can still differ greatly in critical areas. Most notably, for some reason, while the U.S. Farm Bill of 2018 created a new national standard for the amount of THC that could be contained in American hemp crops (0.3%), the same conversation in Europe during the same period of time led to a decision to set the level of allowable THC in hemp plants and products at a slightly lower one: 0.2%. As a further confusing muddle, Switzerland has set its THC limits at 0.1% (Switzerland is not in the European Union), and other countries across the region have also attempted to limit the THC in industrial hemp production to no more than this level, no matter what regulators rule at the EU level.

Just some of the many CBD products on the market today.

Beyond a lack of scientific reasoning obvious in the same, by definition, this creates a natural trade barrier between hemispheres. If U.S. farmers are looking for export opportunities to Europe (for example) not to mention other states, they have to worry about both local as well as destination standards – which on the surface at least, are currently incompatible.

It is also creating some frustrating issues for anyone who is in the market for hemp as either a buyer or seller.

Other Issues In The Mix
Markets are driven by many factors – including regulations but also cost and of course consumer demand for a product within a certain price range. Certainly, the CBD industry if not the recreational THC one right behind it (even in Europe now) desperately wants to attract those who are known euphemistically as “daily consumers.”

This means that both the price point and consumer opportunities must hit a mainstream distribution norm. While the recreational market will continue to be distorted by delayed, but inevitable discussions about reform across Europe, the medical market is beginning to set some groundwork that is also bleeding into the entire discussion. Namely, that extracts will play a large role here.

What does this wrinkle mean in a world where the agricultural cultivation standards are different?

Biomass And Extracts Are Gaining In Importance
For those in the strictly “flower” game, the market at least in the U.S., will remain a place where pretty flower crops will gain premium prices as long as they meet local spec.

european union statesHowever, this is a limited proposition, even now – especially in the CBD business. The edibles market, for one, has created a huge potential for vast quantities of industrially produced, outdoor grown hemp, bound for extraction and downstream, a vast variety of end products across a wide spectrum of niches – from wellness to purely cosmetic. So is the burgeoning medical market in Europe.

This means two things. The first is that consumer-facing products with any amount of cannabinoid (take your pick) can be produced to order, no matter the cannabinoid concentrations of the original plant. The second, by definition, means that biomass bound for extraction, particularly export, will gain an increasingly larger share of the wholesale market.

Does it really matter, in other words, to a European extractor, that the source product is of higher THC concentrate than is allowed for B2C sale in Europe? No. Indeed, all it means is that they have to buy lower amounts of biomass. The rest is merely a mechanical problem.

Playing The Regulatory Game
For an increasingly competitive hemp market in the United States, in other words, foreign exports are absolutely an intriguing option for revenue right now, and will continue to be as long as price competitiveness and overall quality issues remain high. Furthermore, there will be almost no pressure to regulate the market globally to the same standards, particularly if CBD itself is descheduled in December by the WHO.

In other words, the regulatory disconnect between the U.S. and Europe right now, and certainly for certain kinds of unfinished bulk product, could therefore open a new niche in the market that is unlikely to be “fixed” anytime soon.

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