Weeding out untested weed
Dispensaries forced to dispose of 180,000 pounds of cannabis
In a state that produces roughly 13 million pounds of marijuana each year, how significant is the loss of an estimated 180,000 pounds because of regulatory requirements?
For dispensary owners already struggling with lower-than-expected sales and a long list of regulations, the loss marks a big hit to their bottom line. Last week, they were trying to figure out just what to do with untested weed before July 1, when a state mandate required that all weed sold in California be tested for pesticides, mold and other toxins.
The state required that all untested cannabis on dispensary shelves be sent to the landfill, prompting complaints from the industry and cannabis activists who last week asked for an extension.
“Destroying millions of dollars of cannabis on the whim of regulators who only released the latest regulations a few weeks ago is untenable,” said longtime activist Debby Goldsberry, a co-owner of the Magnolia Oakland dispensary. “It’s times like this that civil disobedience starts to make sense.”
But Alex Traverso, a spokesman at the Bureau of Cannabis Control, said the state made the testing requirements clear last year. “The writing has been on the wall,” he said. “We let them know what was expected.”
The testing requirement actually started Jan. 1. But dispensary owners were given a six-month grace period to sell untested weed bought before the start of the year. Shops stocked up on untested cannabis in an effort to cut costs.
City of Sacramento pot czar Joe Devlin tried to get a grasp on the economic impact of the regulation. He called some Sacramento dispensaries to find out how much excess cannabis they had and then extrapolated the figure across the city and the state. His estimate for the city: 4-5,000 pounds of cannabis will go to the landfill, marking the loss of $4 to $5 million worth of weed, at wholesale prices.
Activists and dispensary owners have proposed alternatives, such as giving the weed to low-income, medical marijuana patients. But dispensary owners would likely still have to pay taxes on the weed, as they do for any donation to “compassionate-care” programs.
Another suggestion has been to allow dispensaries to send the weed for testing. The state has balked because the regulations allow for the transport of cannabis from testing facilities to dispensaries, but not the other way around, Traverso said.
Faced with the prospect of having to throw out weed, dispensaries have been trying to liquidate supply through fire sales. In Sacramento, Golden Health and Wellness and Alternative Medical Center cut prices by 75 percent for everything in stock. Lines were long, with people waiting over an hour, but customers took it in stride with the big deals awaiting them.
At a monthly meeting held for cannabis stakeholders, Devlin warned shop owners not to sell untested weed to customers or the black market. “This is something the state is going to look at and audit,” he said.
Traverso confirmed that BCC officials would soon conduct a statewide compliance check at dispensaries, including a review of cannabis for testing requirements.
While the requirement invites images of a big weed bonfire, the regulations don’t appear to give that option. Dispensaries must turn over the weed to a licensed trash hauler, who can put it in a landfill, a composting facility, a “chip-and-grind” plant or a sealed digestion facility.
Dispensary owners will face another big challenge after this one—having to test all of their products. About 30 testing facilities are licensed statewide, and it’s not clear how many of those are actually up and running. Regulators aren’t sure there’s enough to meet the demand, especially since most of them are clustered in Southern California and the Bay Area.