Another day, another Uncle Ike's test result showing some of the pot on retail shelves is not up to the state's standards.
Yesterday I broke the news that Uncle Ike's new random product testing program failed its first product, a concentrate that contained an illegal amount of pesticides, according to Ike's testing. The pot chain posted their tenth test result today and, surprise surprise, it's another failure.
Today's failure is a flower product that had 16 times more gram-negative bacteria than the state allows, according to Ike's test results. Gram-negative bacteria is a broad class of bacteria that includes organisms that live in our gut and in the soil. Nick Mosely, the chief science officer for the pot lab Confidence Analytics, said the result was concerning.
"It doesn’t mean that this is going to make you sick if you smoke it but it’s just an indication that it’s not as clean as it ought to be," Mosely said. "That test is used pretty commonly in food manufacturing as an indicator of a sanitary environment. When you see bile tolerant gram-negative bacteria on a product then it likely came into contact with soil, or, a worst-case scenario, feces."
Uncle Ike's is pulling five random products from their shelves every month and retesting the pot. Ike's owner, Ian Eisenberg, told me he started the program because he got tired of waiting for the state to improve testing requirements.
When a product fails a test, as this one did, Eisenberg pulls the products from the shelves and offers refunds for all purchases. Eisenberg then pulls another product from that same vendor for another test. If that second product fails Eisenberg will pull all products from that company and require the supplier to submit extra testing for six months if they still want to be sold in the store.
Gram-negative bacteria include things like E. coli and salmonella, but those types of bacteria were not detected in today's test result. That means it likely contained different types of gram-negative bacteria. Mosely said that people with compromised immune systems should be more concerned about this kind of bacterial failure.
The state already requires gram-negative bacteria testing, so that means Uncle Ike's retest found something that the first testing lab did not. Mosely said the earlier test could have missed this bacteria for a number of different reasons. This bacteria could have grown after the earlier test or the earlier test could have been pulled from a material that was not contaminated with this bacteria.
"I wouldn't throw the original lab under the bus because things are not evenly distributed and these microbes can grow over time," Mosely said.
Mosely's lab, Confidence Analytics, is not affiliated with the Uncle Ike's testing program. Ike's is using Medicine Creek Analytics to conduct these tests.
Mosely said Ike's retesting program, which is currently showing a 20 percent failure rate, is a good idea.
"I think it’s great and I support it 100 percent," Mosely said. "I think it’s great and I wish more retailers would do it. There’s clearly a need here, hopefully there’s some consumer-driven want for it," Mosely said. "This is clear evidence that there are products on the shelf that aren’t meeting what we generally are accepting as our standards for cannabis. These are products that have already been screened."
Today's failure was for some Sour Tsunami #3 from Sweetwater Farms.
Washington's Liquor and Cannabis Board uses the Washington Department of Agriculture to conduct complaint-driven testing. A recent report conducted on those results found that over 40 percent of pot tested by the state contained illegal amounts of pesticides.
UPDATE: Nov. 16, 4 p.m.
The friendly folks at Sweetwater Farms reached out to me to give some clarifying information on these test results. Sweetwater's Eric Cohen told me that the elevated gram-negative bacteria levels on this sample were caused by the organic nutrients they feed their plants.
"We know exactly where our gram-negative bacteria is coming from. We know it’s in our nutrients, we have been aware of this from day one," Cohen said. "There’s no fecal matter in our nutrients, it’s all plant-derived. And all of the nutrients that we get sent to us get checked for pathogens. The bile-tolerant material that we have does not carry any pathogens."
Cohen reiterated that the category of gram-negative bacteria contains many different types of organisms, many of which are not harmful. He said if any of the organic nutrients, which are mixed with water to feed the plants, touch the flower it can result in a failed test.
"If something splashes onto it–and again there’s nothing harmful in that [nutrient mix]–it will test positive as gram-negative bacteria but there’s nothing negative on that, there’s nothing harmful in that," Cohen said. "We refuse to switch to synthetic because we don’t believe in growing with synthetic chemicals. We believe that anything that we grow as organic is going to have this bile-tolerant gram-negative bacteria."
Cohen said the farm has been lobbying the LCB to change their testing requirements to reflect this situation.