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The legal marijuana industry is inherently protean because new laws always bring new rules, varying on a state-by-state basis. For the general public, a single marijuana product label could be the first and only impression of the legal marijuana industry, meaning industry members need to pay close attention to compliance and image.
This snapshot of seven critical labeling events of 2015 captures the past as a means of illuminating the industry’s future.
1. Fire Sales in Denver
Colorado had new edible regulations go into effect on Feb. 1, 2015, which prompted several dispensaries to have fire sales on edibles throughout January so they could unload their non-compliant inventory. As of the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Divisions mid-year update published on Aug. 6, 2015, the medical and recreational markets sold a combined 639,709 edibles in January, the highest number of sales within the first six months of 2015.
2. FDA Warns Hemp Oil Companies
From Feb. 24 – 26, 2015, the FDA issued warning letters to six hemp oil companies that the agency deemed had made false medical assertions on their labels or whose product labels claimed the product contained CBD, yet FDA tests showed otherwise.
3. Inaccurate Labels in Oregon
On March 6, 2015, The Oregonian released results of a three-month study into the medical marijuana testing industry and the potency in marijuana edibles. At the time of the report, 19 labs were operating in the state’s cottage testing industry without clear scientific protocol. Of the 15 edible products tested by The Oregonian’s analytical chemist, only one contained accurately labeled potency information, with most products testing at significantly lower levels of THC than what had been printed on the labels.
4. Johns Hopkins: Medical Marijuana ‘Edibles’ Mostly Mislabeled
On June 23, 2015, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine issued a press release on a study conducted in collaboration with The Werc Shop that showed labels for medical marijuana edibles often over- or understate the cannabinoid content.
The researchers collected 75 different edible cannabis products from three medical dispensaries in three cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Products were tested in the state within which they were purchased.
At the end of the study, researchers found that only 13 products had been accurately labeled. Product labels that differed 10 percent or more from their corresponding lab results were categorized as under- or over-labeled, with 45 products having less THC than advertised.
5. Colorado Introduces New Symbol for Edibles Labels
On Aug. 31, 2015, members of the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division revealed a new symbol for legal edibles: a diamond shape with the letters THC inside of it. On the packaging itself, the symbol would be red with black text, while it would be white on the product. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman approved the symbol for medical and retail edibles on Oct. 30, and manufacturers have until October 2016 to comply.
6. Product Labels Misusing the Term “Organic”
According to Emerge Law Group, the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 assigned regulation of the term “organic” to the United States Department of Agriculture, a federal agency, and agricultural products can only be certified organic by approved agencies. While the OFPA considers marijuana an agricultural product, the USDA will not certify a federally illegal substance as organic, meaning state-legal marijuana products do not have the USDA’s organic certification.
On Sept. 16, The Denver Post reported that the Colorado State Attorney General is investigating complaints from consumers regarding marijuana businesses misusing the word organic in business names and promotional materials. Misusing a federal organic product label certification can warrant a fine of up to $10,000.
While there are alternatives, California’s new medical marijuana regulations are attempting to head off the issue by stipulating, “Not later than January 1, 2020, the Department of Food and Agriculture in conjunction with the bureau, shall make available a certified organic designation and organic certification program for medical marijuana, if permitted under federal law and the National Organic Program.”
7. Labeling in a Future with Federal Legalization
On Oct. 20, 2015, CLS Holdings USA Inc. (OTCQB: CLSH) released the ideal marijuana product label for a future with federally legalized marijuana products. CLS Holdings USA guided its label design by referencing the FDA’s regulations on production and process control systems for dietary supplements, in anticipation of federal protocol.
CLSH’s label is shown on an edible chocolate bar to demonstrate that edibles products need a nutrition panel and a cannabinoid profile panel. Portraying the ideal national standard, the panels give the label a mainstream familiarity; it’s a label consumers can accept and understand, one that should illuminate the future of labeling in the New Year.