The Hazy Truth: The Lack of Transparency in Cannabis Labeling

One of the surprising things for me to discover was just how inconsistent states were in their labeling laws – and how opaque cannabis testing is for consumers seeking to understand what’s in their cannabis (and what’s not). 

Regardless of the product being sold, labeling is a primary form of communication to consumers about what they are buying. It’s key to marketing, legal compliance, and consumer safety. It’s a way to inform the consumer about what’s in the product, its effects, and information regarding risks.

The importance of labeling for cannabis products can’t be understated. As states and regulations take time to stabilize, the onus is on the consumer to understand what businesses are trustworthy and which aren’t – especially in light of just how whacky the lab data can be.  

In a perfect cannabis testing world, cannabis testing would be centered around consumer safety.  

Dream with me for a minute. 

I imagine a market in which labs have regular, blind proficiency tests run by the state – preferably a state-run reference laboratory to support off the shelf testing, labeling would de-prioritize exact THC percentages, and full Certificate of Analysis (CoA’s) would be available on demand (either at the dispensary at time of purchase or via online lookup / QR Codes). 

Readers, we are far from that dream. Right now, there aren’t a lot of states that even require the laboratory to be listed on a label, much less require that the entire CoA be available for consumers. 

Here is the very disappointing state of play:

There are only 8 states that require the laboratory to be listed outright on the label (though I’m unclear on the rules for testing of Low THC oil in Louisiana and Georgia). In Vermont (VT), a QR code is required, but a recent test of a QR code from VT on a recalled product came up as a dead link. In South Dakota, while the lab name isn’t required, there is only one cannabis testing lab in the state.

Each state’s results are shown below in map view and listed in the below table (please click here for links):

State Lab Listed on Label?
Alaska Yes
Arizona No
Arkansas Yes
California No
Colorado No
Connecticut No
Delaware No
District of Columbia No
Florida No
Georgia Unsure
Hawaii No
Illinois Yes
Kentucky Yes
Louisiana Unclear
Maine No
Maryland No
Massachusetts No
Michigan Yes
Minnesota No
Mississippi No
Missouri No
Montana Yes
Nevada No
New Hampshire No
New Jersey No
New Mexico No
New York No
North Dakota No
Ohio Yes
Oklahoma No
Oregon Yes
Pennsylvania No
Rhode Island No
South Dakota No, but there’s only one lab
Vermont No, but requires website / QR Code
Washington No
West Virginia No

Please click here for the link to Washington.

Caveat Emptor

Unfortunately, there are a lot of challenges facing cannabis laboratories as they all gun for that cash grab. Since the economic incentives for laboratories are to give results that increase marketability of cannabis, they have many ways of doing just that. This leaves consumers in a difficult place when it comes to understanding what’s in their cannabis, as even with the sparse information available on some labels it’s hard to know if the information is trustworthy. Many states still haven’t availed themselves of tools at their disposal that could calibrate the playing field and protect consumers – simply because the lack of economic upside is not in line with their corporate interests. That must change.