Durango-based Aurum Labs became the second laboratory to receive state certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to conduct hemp compliance testing for manufactured industrial hemp products. The certification came Aug. 11.
Aurum joins Denver-based Botanacor Laboratories, which received state certification June 24, in the CDPHE’s push to implement new rules to test for pesticides in hemp products intended for human use or consumption (anything ingested or applied topically).
But with just two labs certified to provide testing services to approximately 560 registered industrial hemp manufacturers in Colorado, the CDPHE remains in delay for implementing its new regulations. Supply chain issues have prevented more potential state-certified labs from coming on board sooner, said Jeff Lawrence, CDPHE Director for the Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability.
Earlier this year, the CDPHE set an Aug. 1 target date to start testing 59 pesticides on a modified list; testing for the full list of 106 pesticides was scheduled to begin Oct. 1. But the Aug. 1 date has been postponed and the Oct. 1 date remains tentative until further notice to avoid creating a testing backlog, Lawrence said.
“The impetus for the testing requirements were to ensure robust testing of the products,” he said. “That was the reason the stakeholders helped us develop those. But we also need to make sure that it’s attainable, and that we’re not putting undue barriers on industry. And so, you know, somewhat COVID-related in the world we’re in right now, laboratories had some significant delays in the ability to source the required equipment and the metrics to be able to conduct the testing.”
With the new rules and regulations for pesticide testing, labs seeking state certification potentially needed different media or new equipment to expand their capabilities for the CDPHE’s testing requirements, Lawrence said.
“Getting that piece of equipment has provided more challenge than what was originally envisioned,” he said. “My understanding, without great knowledge on it, was that there’s a computer chip in there, and getting some computer stuff is difficult at this time. And it just kind of ripples into that. It’s no different than any other supply chain issue that you may see across any other industry—a little kink in a chain at one place kind of creates that kink throughout the supply chain from that point forward. And that’s what happened here.”
In addition to pesticides, the robust suite of compliance tests that Colorado is requiring industrial hemp manufacturers and wholesalers to conduct through certified labs also includes potency, microbial contaminants, heavy metals, residual solvents and mycotoxins.
In addition to becoming CDPHE certified to conduct those tests, Aurum Labs has simultaneously been working to become a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered cannabis and hemp testing laboratory.
“We strive to meet and exceed the requirements of the state, ISO and the federal government by innovating quickly,” Aurum owner and Lab Director Luke Mason said in a press release. “Being nimble makes it possible for us to get certified by the state while simultaneously working our way through DEA registration.”
While the new CDPHE pesticide testing rules are delayed, that doesn’t mean hemp plants are currently going untested. The Colorado Department of Agriculture already performs laboratory testing on selected pre-harvest hemp samples from the field, which includes a regimen for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency, pesticides and other contaminants for plants grown in the state.
The CDPHE’s required pesticide testing for manufactured products is not explicitly aimed at cannabidiol (CBD)-derived hemp products, Lawrence said, when asked if the new rules also apply to hempseed oil and grain targeted for human use or consumption.
“It’s kind of a mixed answer on that because obviously pesticides are introduced during the cultivation and the growth of the plant,” he said. “Depending on the receipts from the product manufacturer that they may receive from the grower, a pesticide panel that shows all 106 [pesticides] and they were fine, no further testing is needed.
“So, really, that’s a kind of grower-buyer interaction about who needs to conduct the testing. Our requirement is just a certificate of analysis that a certified state lab says this product was tested for all [106 pesticides] and it was compliant with those.”
Industrial hemp manufacturers or wholesalers who choose to conduct third-party testing would not be in compliance with CDPHE’s forthcoming regulations, Lawrence said.
While the additional hemp product testing requirements include a list of pesticides that far exceeds the 13 pesticides now required for Colorado’s cannabis products, Lawrence said he views that as an apples-to-oranges comparison.
“On the surface, it’s a fair comparison,” he said. “I mean, I can do math; 106 is more than 13. But the industries are significantly different. Marijuana is a closed-gate community, right? You have to have a different level of oversight to come into that. It’s state only. Marijuana products from Colorado do not cross over into different states, legally. The growth of that is maintained here. The production of that is seed to sale. So, there’s continuity.”
In addition, industrial hemp in Colorado is more commonly grown outdoors, compared to cannabis, so different parameters for pesticides are used when adjacent crops may pose cross-contamination threats, he said.
“This comprehensive list—which we don’t deny it’s that—takes all those things into account,” Lawrence said. “And when we’re having the reg review process, the stakeholders really wanted to make sure that we were on the mark with the tests for assurity of products. And when we looked at that, that was the Oregon list and the Canada list that were the most comprehensive, and that’s what they endorsed.”
Colorado governs its other food commodities through interaction between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—with state oversight agencies being partners within that federal framework. But that interaction hasn’t existed within the production of hemp products, Lawrence said.
Specifically, the FDA has refused to approve CBD as a dietary supplement.
“Obviously, [the interaction] does exist within [hemp] cultivation through USDA’s oversight of that, of state programs,” Lawrence said. “But, yeah, a lack of FDA oversight is a huge contributor to some disjointed approaches from states and potential frustration for the industry.”
Lawrence said the CDPHE will continue to provide updates to keep industry stakeholders from waiting with “bated breath,” but the department wants to ensure that the new target date to implement the modified list, followed by the full pesticides list, will set up the industry and state-certified labs for success.
In addition to Botanacor and Aurum, there are other laboratories that are close to becoming certified, he said.
“Staff within our laboratory services division is contacting the industry,” Lawrence said. “So, once they’ve done all that outreach, we’ll get back together and establish a date. We’ll probably put out a communication to the industry this week or next week, just letting them know where we’re at on that. In all honesty, [we’re not anticipating a] date being implemented at that time because, again, we want to make sure that the next date selected is one that can be attainable.”