Within a few months, financial and political priorities may finally align behind New York’s legalization of adult-use recreational and nutraceutical cannabis. New legislation will create significant opportunities for laboratories with experience in food and drug testing. But regulatory concerns, demand for high throughput and other factors mean labs may not be prepared to seize the opportunity. A laboratory information management system (LIMS) tailored for the unique needs of New York’s cannabis testing labs can make the difference.
Will New York Legalize Cannabis in 2021?
New York has danced around the edges of full cannabis legalization by tweaking possession penalties. But the most recent attempt at a top-to-bottom overhaul of cannabis regulation collapsed in early 2020. Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stated his support for legalization and included a proposal in the budget he sent to the State Assembly last spring. But his proposal would have sent the influx of new tax revenue to the state’s general budget. Many legislators objected, arguing that the money should redress the harms minority communities experienced during the drug war. Once the COVID-19 pandemic found them overwhelmed by other priorities, cannabis legalization fell off the legislative radar.
But 2021 is a new year and Governor Cuomo has promised to make another run at legalization. Several factors could tip the balance, starting with the pandemic. The decline in sales and income taxes, combined with the cost of fighting the pandemic, has carved a gaping hole in New York’s budget. Making the state’s marijuana consumption taxable will go a long way to balancing the budget. Legislators have also had more time to work through their differences on allocating cannabis revenues. If that isn’t enough, last year’s election saw New Jersey legalize cannabis. Unless the State Assembly acts quickly, New Yorkers’ cannabis purchases — and their taxes — could end up flowing to the Garden State
Are Testing Labs Ready for Legalization?
The question is, how ready is the industry, particularly New York’s testing labs, for legalization? Probably built upon New York’s medical-use regulations, the new legalization effort will create a regulatory framework for growing, distributing and selling adult-use recreational and nutraceutical cannabis products. The industry will need extensive testing to prove compliance with food and drug safety regulations. Unique to the industry, labs must also reliably document potency and identify strains of cannabis-based products, and strictly monitor, document and report their storage and movements.
The test results laboratories produce will need to be reliable and consistent. In other parts of the country, “outlaw” test labs have played free and loose with their reports. This frustrates consumers when they buy products that are stronger or weaker than advertised. Fake reports also lead to costly recalls and possibly safety issues. But the biggest threat these outlaw labs pose to a young industry is the reaction from regulators.
New York’s legitimate test labs will need to work with the industry to quickly stamp out the outlaw outfits. In the absence of federal standards, an approach underway in other states relies on more general standards like ISO/IEC 17025 to reinforce the industry’s credibility. Growers, producers and retailers only work with accredited labs, freezing out the outlaws.
Many of New York’s testing labs already have the equipment and the personnel needed to support the cannabis industry. They also have internal compliance processes to provide food, drug and clinical testing services. However, cannabis tests and regulations will be different. Labs will need to make investments to take advantage of this new opportunity.
Get a Head Start With CannaQA
LabLynx adapted its ELab LIMS platform to let laboratories spin up their cannabis test services quickly. CannaQA is a complete solution customized to meet the unique needs of the cannabis industry. Besides supporting typical cannabis assays and workflows, CannaQA interfaces with common track-and-trace systems including Metrc, BioTracTHC and Leaf. And CannaQA can automatically generate compliance reports for submission to state regulators.
CannaQA is optimized to let laboratories spin up their cannabis test services quickly.
“Fate of Pot Sales in New York Is Unclear”, NBC New York, February 2020.
“Cuomo: This Is the Year Marijuana Finally Gets Legalized in New York”, NBC New York, November 2020.
“New York appears better positioned than before to legalize $2 billion-plus recreational marijuana market”, Marijuana Business Daily, January 2021.