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Is Cannabis Ready For a Weights & Measures Day of Reckoning?

11 minutes reading time (2247 words)

It turns out that The National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM), the official body responsible for setting weights and measures standards in the United States, has had cannabis in its sights for some time, and even formed a Cannabis Task Group years ago to create standards for cannabis and hemp products. If the Task Group can get enough member states to agree on the specifics – a task it is currently undertaking – NCWM will in all likelihood establish new rules that industry regulators will use to make sure all cannabis products are adhering to stated claims regarding weights and measures.

An NGO, NCWM is “a professional not-for-profit association of state and local weights and measures officials, federal agencies, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers,” per its website. “NCWM has developed national weights and measures standards since 1905. The organization brings the right interests together to keep pace with innovative advancements in the marketplace.”

The existence of the Cannabis Task Group was brought to my attention after I posted a recent article about purchasing some very dry cannabis flower at a Massachusetts dispensary. I received an email from Charlie Rutherford, a consultant and founder of CPR Squared, who also is co-chair of the Cannabis Task Group, of which he has been a member for at least five years.

“Sorry to hear about your experience,” he wrote. “No, it’s not uncommon. I investigated the frequency and severity of underweight packages across the country. You’d be horrified. Consumers should be picketing. I can only assume they aren’t because the novelty of walking into a store hasn’t quite worn off.

“You covered how you got ripped off on quality,” he continued. “Here’s how you got ripped off on quantity: Your purchase wasn’t packaged that dry. It dried out on the shelf after being weighed at 3.5g. $40 for 3.5g which is a cost per gram of $11.43. Based on what you described, I’d be surprised if you received 3g. If they ‘only’ shorted you .5g, they stole $5.72 from you.

“This exact topic is being debated right now in the National Conference on Weights and Measures,” he added, “based on a proposal that would require cannabis flower to be stored, transported, and sold in conformance with ASTM D8197-21 Standard Specification for Maintaining Acceptable Water Activity (aw) Range (0.55 to 0.65) for Dry Cannabis Flower Intended for Human/Animal Use.”

I replied to Rutherford, who explained what NCWM does and how the time-consuming Cannabis Task Group approval process is unfolding. Regarding NCWM, “One of the most famous things they do would be fuel testing to make sure that the octane you’re paying for at a gas station really is that octane. They’re also the people who go into a grocery store and weigh-out prepackaged meats or prepackaged anything, to confirm that they are the weight that is advertised on the package. They’re also the people that would break open a carton of milk or a box of rice to make sure that those manufacturers are still doing the same thing.

“It’s probably the least known of any regulatory agency,” he added, “and I guess they’re not even exactly that. Their standards, which is what they would call them, or their rules, get published in the NIST Handbooks, which I didn’t know about before getting involved in this. It’s the bible for weights and measures regulators across the country, so if they walk into a store, or go to a gas pump, or to an LP tank, they can essentially open up a book to find out how to test, what variances are allowed, what weight variances are allowed, and that book is what they go by.”

Eventually, cannabis became an industry of interest.  “NCWM recognized that cannabis is here to stay, and they decided, with the urging of the person who is now the Director of Weights and Measures for the state of Massachusetts, to create the Cannabis Task Group. There are tons of task groups within NCWM on all different subjects that they regulate, so it wasn’t unique to start a cannabis group except for the fact that it was somewhat radioactive. We’re going back about five years, which was a completely different world than today. I came across an article somewhere that was talking about their first meeting, and I was like, ‘I have to be there, because based on my professional experience having been business development director for a company that has products in the area of keeping cannabis flower at the right moisture content, obviously I had an interest in being able to give them my expertise.” The company was Boveda, where Rutherford worked for over seven years.

According to the Cannabis Task Group page, “This subcommittee provides ongoing support for the Laws and Regulations Committee for standards related to the NIST Handbook 130 Uniform Fuels and Automotive Lubricants Regulation and specific subsections of the Uniform Regulation for the Method of Sale of Commodities.”

Regarding its formation, “The Task Group consists of public members, scale industry, cannabis trade groups and other associated members. The Subcommittee typically meets twice a year in conjunction with NCWM Interim and Annual Meetings. These meetings open to NCWM members or other registered parties.”

It is charged with the following tasks:

“Create uniform guidance for States, the District of Columbia, and territories in 5 different areas:

Suitability of scales Method of Sale Package and labeling of products Safety for inspectors Moisture Loss of prepackaged product

Rutherford sent CBE additional clarification on the 5 areas of focus:

Suitability of Scales – Is the scale being used suitable for the purpose? They will outline the class and type of scale that should be used for various weights. For instance, a more precise scale will be needed for weighing out grams than one used for weighing multiple pounds. Method of Sale – This confirms that Cannabis products will be sold by Volume (liquids), Weight (flower, etc.) or count and need to be declared on the package along with the responsible party. All the language proposed that isn’t changing for this go-round starts on page 22 of this document, labeled B3: MOS-22. Packaging and Labeling – Goal is to define what info needs to be on the packaging and how prominent. This language is on page 21 of the above doc, under B3: PAL22.1. It defines “Cannabis” and “cannabis”. Safety for Inspectors – W&M inspectors will eventually conduct inspections to enforce items passed in these FG’s. They’re trying to determine whether there are safety/contamination issues unique to cannabis grows, production and dispensaries. Moisture Loss – Trying to determine the allowed variation from the weight stated on a package, in order to prevent what you experienced in MA.

Enforcement of these areas happens in two tracks, said Rutherford. “There’s the Marijuana Enforcement Divisions, that are concerned about health and safety and so they monitor maximum water activity, but they don’t care about whether people are getting ripped off; that’s not their jurisdiction,” he said. “NCWM has recognized that people are getting ripped off, and that there are ways to manipulate moisture at key points in the distribution chain that allow people to divert up to about 5 percent of any volume of product to the black market with zero detection metric. Nothing is going to detect that. What NCWM has the ability to do is step in and establish a lower moisture limit at all of those exposure points. What that means for consumers is they’re going to be treated better, they’re not going to get ripped off on weight, and it’s still going to be high-quality, safe flower because it’s also conforming to the upper limit.”

Will the NCWM also set standards for cannabis products other than flower, like topicals and concentrates? “They sure will,” said Rutherford. “Flower is probably the flashiest one; the others are just essentially adhering to current CPG guidelines, where you’ve got to have a declaration of what’s in it, you have to have a responsible party listed on it in case there are any adverse effects, and then that’s going to allow the regulator to be able to do spot checks, and they will. They’re going to go out and make sure that that article has the fluid ounces that it mentions, and if they can’t see through package, they’re going to make sure that there are 15 gummies in a package. Those things will begin to happen as NCWM publishes their rules.”

The subject is important on several levels, said Rutherford. “The undeniable fact is that next to precious metals and stones, there is no more valuable product pound for pound, the point being that it needs to be treated with great care because none of those other products have the illicit market value that cannabis does, or the incentive to turn what would usually be good actors in the gray market into black market actors because of what we know to be true about all the regulations and taxes.

“And so, we’re dealing with something where that we need to, for multiple reasons, keep the weight stable,” he added. “I’ve got to know if I’m buying 40 pounds, that it’s going to be 40 pounds, not 39 and a half. I’ve got to know that when I’m buying something at retail that I’m getting what I pay for. We’re built to believe that if we walked out of a grocery store and got home and found that there were only 11 eggs in the carton, we’d march back to the store over one 30 cent egg. And that’s what makes it so crazy to me that there’s not more news out there about people who had an experience like your own. I did basically a Freedom of Information request for every state agency to find out the prevalence of underweight complaints. None of them keep that information. Oregon volunteered to me, ‘We don’t keep record of how many, but we know it’s our number one complaint.’”

The Timeline

The process to approve new additions or changes to the NIST Handbook is tortuously long, but considering the stakes, it probably should be. “It starts with all new submissions for revising the handbooks required to be submitted by an August date,” explained Rutherford, “and then there are a series of regional meetings that we’re in the midst of now. The first one just happened. The proposed revisions or additions need to be approved as voting items from at least one of four regions in order to make it to the interim meeting in January. The January meeting is where there is a second to final vote to advance those items as final voting items for the annual meeting that happens each July. So, we just had a July meeting, and we needed 27 states to vote affirmatively for the language relating to all the cannabis products. We got 25.”

Still, the process continues, more opportunities to pass the new standards are upcoming, and hope and strategy spring eternal. To counter any residual radioactivity, Rutherford is altering his tactics. “What I’m doing this year is saying, ‘Listen, if it’s uncomfortable for you to think of cannabis as an adult-use or medical product, you still have hemp programs in your state, so how are you monitoring how much water is in the hemp that your residents are buying?’ Because this would also apply to hemp, so that we can standardize the understanding of how much moisture is in this product and still get the anti-cannabis states on board. At the same time, many of them have ballot initiatives this November and so the great citizens of their states may make my work a lot easier.

“If it passes next July,” he added, “the new standard would go into effect the following January 2024. The one clarification I would make is that under the normal adoption program that whatever state has, I don’t know if [adoption] happens the day after the new NIST Handbook is published on January 1 of each year, or if it would be weeks or months later.”

Politics is an unfortunate but inevitable part of the process as well, but the Cannabis Task Group is making headway, said Rutherford, who is the only Task Group member who hails from the cannabis industry. Of the 40-plus members, “These are primarily people trained in metrology,” he said. “They’re going to understand all different types of scales and scale calibration. There’s going to be a lot of rank-and-file metrology people, but also directors of weights and measures, and almost without exception that department falls under the Ag department of each state.”

The Cannabis Task Group could definitely use more industry folk, said Rutherford.. “Anyone off the street can get involved, and candidly, we need more industry, because I’m the only consistent industry face at these meetings, with the exception of the American Trade Association on Cannabis and Hemp, which has been very faithful. But we need more industry perspective.”

As gradual as the process may be, Rutherford urged the industry to stay-tuned. “I think when it will get really interesting is after the first of the year, because that’s when the items that will be up for a vote will have been finalized.”

CBE will report on the progress of the Cannabis Task Group and upcoming votes as they occur.

The post Is Cannabis Ready For a Weights & Measures Day of Reckoning? appeared first on Cannabis Business Executive - Cannabis and Marijuana industry news.

(Originally posted by Tom Hymes)


© Cannabis Business Executive

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