Updated: Mar 31
LEGAL CANNABIS VS. BLACK MARKET CANNABIS
Flower is flower we tell ourselves, right? All cannabis is equal, no matter the source. Any concentrated form is equal too, whether it comes from the guy down the street making it in his garage or from a fancy facility with industrial equipment, the result appears to be the same.
But is this really the case? Absolutely not! In this brief article we’ll explore some of the key differences between what is produced outside of a licensed facility and sold on the street vs. what a license facility produces and carries on their shelves. The biggest difference can be summed up in one word: Testing
That’s right, real evidence that what you get was produced with care and is safe for you to use. There are no governing regulations on a black-market product. This means that the cannabis, and the concentrates that come from it, have no standard for safety whatsoever. From heavy metals, to microbial content, to pesticide use, and even to obscure chemicals called Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs), the State of Michigan has set forth the toughest standards in the nation for what is deemed a safe, quality product. Let’s look at some of these! Microbial content is a measure that is taken to determine how much and what kind of bacteria may be present in any given sample. Currently Michigan regulates testing thresholds in what is called a “Colony Forming Unit”, or CFU. There are standards in place to test for individual pathogenic bacteria such as aspergillus, coliforms (e. coli), gram negative bile tolerant bacteria, salmonella, and total yeast and mold (TYM) content. There are arguments that the standards for Michigan’s TYM is too low to allow regular unbiased testing as there is not information available as to what these microbes are and if they are indeed harmful or even beneficial, however the State is reluctant to change it’s high standards because of a lack of evidence all around.
Heavy metals are present in many soils, nutrients, and sources of water. Cannabis just happens to be known as a bio accumulator for such substances, readily absorbing them into it’s own cellular structure and not letting it go. There is a common misconception that these substances can be flushed out from the plant, but this is not factual. Currently, Michigan enforces testing standards for: Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Nickel, Copper and Mercury. Another common misconception is that simply being organic means that the product is cleaner, however this is reliant on the inputs used. Improperly sourced materials can be high in heavy metal content, for instance a fish meal that is too high in mercury with be absorbed by the plant and potentially test too high above regulations.
Water activity is another thing that regulated cannabis is measured on. Water activity is a poorly understood item but is best think about it in terms of what’s available for microbes to spread themselves. In the food industry there are standards that have been observed of this measure that show that microbes cannot spread themselves below a certain point in this measure, and greatly reduced in a small threshold just above it. The concept behind it is that at a certain point, it is acceptable for long term storage without allowing microbial growth to spread. Only regulated cannabis will be tested on this measure. How long do you think some product has been sitting around in someone’s moldy, damp basement potentially growing molds and harmful bacteria?
Moisture content is in a sense related to water activity, but whereas water activity is a direct measure of the available water available for microbial growth, moisture is a much more direct measure of the water content left in a sample. Michigan determines that anything above a 15% moisture level is not acceptable for regulated cannabis, meaning that those overly fresh flowers you could sometimes get from other sources throw off weights and measures when they’re dry, costing you extra money. Finally, one of - if not THE most – important standards and thresholds for regulated cannabis are pesticides and banned plant growth regulators. PGRs are sometimes misunderstood in thinking that they are all bad, however a lot are actually naturally occurring compounds that just alter the growth or finished result of plants… some, however, are not. Some are meant strictly for ornamental use and have proven to be carcinogenic. The same thing goes for pesticides. Michigan has a safe use list of items that, while requiring just a small amount more labor to apply, are effective. However unscrupulous producers will use these substances as a part of their regular pest prevention program, most often because it’s a one-time very inexpensive treatment and they don’t have to worry about following up with additional treatments or monitoring. However, just think: if the action of that applied pesticide is so persistent, how long does it actually remain in the plants tissue? Again, most of these banned substances are meant for ornamental plants only, are carcinogenic, and some of them even break down into hydrogen cyanide when combusted. Some of the banned substances include: paclobutrazol, myclobutanil (or Eagle20), Abamectin (Avid), Spiromesifen (Forbid), Imidacloprid (Merit), and Bifenazate (Floramite). Unregulated, untested weed can and very often does contain one or more banned substance in it. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to rely on regulated cannabis over black market cannabis, and the extra couple of dollars a client can pay in making sure those products are tested are one of the reasons why products from a provisioning center are often times flat out better. We certainly feel that it’s worth it, and hope now that you know, you do too!