New York officials just made an important move by adopting the cannabinoid hemp program regulations under the Office of Cannabis Management, treating hemp and high-THC cannabis as the same from a testing and regulatory perspective. That may not sound like a big deal but coupled with continued consumer haziness about the differences between hemp and cannabis, along with an extremely competitive Northeast market—this action puts New Jersey-based producers at a disadvantage.
New Jersey lags New York in this type of necessary regulation, and New Jersey officials should take note and follow suit.
New Jersey’s cannabis program has seen significant progress recently, with applications opening in mid-December, but in some other key policy areas, it’s falling behind our neighbors when it comes to managing this plant.
Remember, whether it’s adult-use cannabis, medical cannabis or cannabinoid hemp, botanically it’s all the same species. The legal distinction that hemp is 0.3% THC content or less is a tricky one for regulators, and it is a source of consumer confusion as well. But here we are.
New York’s cannabis governing body recently approved hemp regulations that establish standards for processing, manufacturing, lab testing and packaging for cannabinoid hemp products within the state. These regulations also create a certification for “New York Hemp Product” which can only be used if the cannabinoid hemp product is grown and processed in New York state.
With my background in environmental testing, I understand the need for industry regulation that protects consumers. This testing requirement isn’t needless bureaucratic red tape: Hemp can play host to the same kinds of dangerous contaminants that high-THC cannabis plants can, like yeast, molds or pesticides. It makes sense to require testing for such contaminants at the state level, given the lack of FDA oversight.
New Jersey, on other hand, only mandates that hemp products undergo potency testing for compliant THC content, and the hemp program only licenses cultivators and processors, not the retail side of the industry. Among other issues, this regime means that in this state, we’ve got different regulations depending on the market—medical, recreational and hemp. While New Jersey does intend to combine medical and recreational regulations at some point, there’s no set date for that to occur, and there’s been no mention of regulating low-THC cannabis products under the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
New Jersey still uses Maryland’s testing regulations for medical cannabis testing. In some ways, even these regulations aren’t as strict as New York’s Cannabinoid Hemp Program—with several tests allowing for higher levels of contamination and less comprehensive analyte lists. This situation might sound like good news for New Jersey businesses on the surface as they have a lower bar to meet, and in the case of CBD products, basically no bar at all.
However, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration steps in to regulate hemp CBD products (which it most certainly will), then businesses that have taken advantage of less-stringent regulations may find themselves unable to measure up to updated standards.
The bottom line with these regulations: There’s little incentive for retailers—pretty much anywhere—to stock New Jersey-made hemp products. Regulations governing final product quality and retail would not only elevate Jersey-grown hemp businesses — many of which already make excellent products that are tested far beyond simple state-mandated potency levels — but also prepare the state’s CBD industry for eventual federal regulations.
Another regulatory head-scratcher involves laboratory oversight. Applications are now open for New Jersey labs seeking to test recreational cannabis.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is mandating that labs seeking to test recreational cannabis (both safety panels and potency) must be ISO accredited. That’s all well and good—internationally recognized ISO standards are a good thing—but that’s not quite how it works.
Labs are ISO accredited per analyte, meaning “per thing they test.” For example, a lab is not accredited for general cannabinoid testing (there are over 100 known cannabinoids). Instead, they are accredited for a panel of specific compounds that their method can quantify—like delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and so on. For cannabinoids, this is generally similar across all state regulations, but pesticide compound lists vary greatly between states, with some compounds requiring different methods and equipment to measure.
To date, the CRC has not released a list of analytes they want labs to be registered for in testing recreational cannabis products. The result is that labs will not be able to prepare their applications in time—or they’ll just have to guess at what the analytes will be.
There’s no perfect set of rules. For all its increased cultural acceptance and how widely legalized recreational and medical cannabis now are, there’s still a lot of murkiness on how to test these products for consumer safety, which regulations to put in place and how to prepare for the future.
That said, I hope that New Jersey follows New York’s lead and treats cannabis and hemp the same from a regulatory perspective. Such a move would be good for consumer safety, and it would make in-state CBD businesses more competitive. And there’s a significant opportunity for New Jersey’s hemp industry at large if New Jersey also follows New York’s lead in creating a certification for cannabinoid hemp products grown and processed in that state. Existing programs, like Jersey Fresh, could oversee such a certification.
With more stringent regulations that align with New York’s, both new and established New Jersey businesses have a greater chance to tap into the massive New York market. With consumer safety in mind, and business health and potential at the core, I see a huge opportunity for New Jersey here—with the right regulatory approach, that is.
Kristen Goedde is the founder and COO of ISO 17025-accredited cannabis testing laboratory Trichome Analytical. She has managed quality control and analytical workflows throughout her career with special emphasis on environmental, health and safety testing.