Calif. agency warns some legal cannabis products could be ‘adulterated’

By Lester Black
Updated Nov 27, 2023 10:43 a.m.

California’s cannabis regulator has issued an embargo on several cannabis products, claiming that three batches of legal weed products may have been “adulterated,” according to a Nov. 9 warning letter obtained by SFGATE and sent to companies whose products are affected.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) confirmed the embargo to SFGATE, saying the products are suspected of being dangerous to consume. The Nov. 9 letter references a California legal code, which explains products that are suspected of being “adulterated” may contain “poisonous or deleterious” substances. The DCC declined to provide any more information regarding the embargo.

“DCC is currently investigating the facts and circumstances related to these products to determine the appropriate next steps, including whether a recall is necessary,” said David Hafner, a spokesperson for the agency, in an email to SFGATE.

State law requires that legal cannabis products pass safety tests before they’re sold to the public. The required tests include screening for pesticides, mold and heavy metals. These tests are conducted by third-party labs licensed by the DCC.

The Nov. 9 warning was issued for products that were already being sold to the public. In order for products to hit shelves, they must pass state-required safety testing. The DCC letter states that the embargoed products “are suspected of being adulterated,” which implies the state may have information showing that the original safety tests were not accurate, or that the products were altered somehow after being tested.

A product “embargo” issued by the DCC requires cannabis businesses to stop selling any affected products and put them aside; embargoed products may “not be removed or disposed of.” The DCC could decide to proceed with a full recall of these products in the future.

Though the DCC names the products in its warning letters to companies, it does not list embargoed products publicly. However, SFGATE has decided to publish the names of the affected products as well as their batch ID numbers (unique identifiers printed on all legal cannabis products referred to as “METRC Batch No.”) in the interest of public safety:

“SHARK BITE – PACIFIC CHEMISTRY” Pre-Rolls from METRC Batch No. 1A406030000465D000001314

“WEST COAST CURE – BISCOTTI” Disposable Vape Pens from METRC Batch No. 1A4060300009222000010348

“CRU CANNABIS – MAI TAI” Disposable Vape Pens from METRC Batch No. 1A40603000020EC000009978.

SFGATE contacted the three companies that appear to have made the products but did not receive a comment by publication time.

The DCC’s Nov. 9 letter directs all companies in possession of these three products to immediately stop selling the items and retain them for investigation. Despite this ban on sales, at least one legal store is still selling the affected products as of Friday afternoon. SFGATE was able to purchase a “CRU CANNABIS – MAI TAI” vape cartridge at Bloomerang Cannabis in San Francisco that had the same state identification number listed on the embargo.

The DCC and the Bloomerang Cannabis store did not respond to a request for comment regarding why the products are still being sold more than a week after the state moved to embargo them.

Hafner said in an email that the DCC has issued 79 embargoes since the its creation in 2021. The DCC has only issued one mandatory recall, according to its website.

Jason Cooley, the chief science officer at SQRD LAB, a DCC-licensed lab in Los Angeles, said in an email to SFGATE that the Nov. 9 embargo was the first embargo he was aware of that had been placed on products after they had passed safety tests. Cooley questioned why the state hadn’t made these embargoes public.

“Of course, there is no bulletin on their site regarding these products so it may be that this has happened before and [they] have not publicized it, which seems counterintuitive to public safety,” Cooley wrote in an email Friday to SFGATE.

Zachary Eisenberg, a vice president at San Francisco’s Anresco Labs, which is also DCC licensed to test cannabis, said the state should “absolutely” be making these embargo notices public.

“They should really be making it public to everybody, so if someone had already purchased these products they would know not to consume them,” Eisenberg told SFGATE.

Cannabis labs across the country have been accused of falsifying safety tests for years. California’s labs have specifically been called out for inflating potency results and not accurately conducting safety tests.

Eisenberg blamed the DCC for not effectively enforcing testing rules. He said it was “concerning” that the state has not issued more product recalls, despite rampant allegations of fraud in the state’s safety testing.

“We’ve had [cannabis companies] where we … would advise that we found a failing pesticide, and they say, ‘We’re just going to have this batch tested at another lab where we know it will pass,’” Eisenberg said. “It’s not a question of if it happens, it’s a question of how much it happens.”

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