ON YOUR LAST trip to the dispensary, you might have noticed that some of your favorite non-flower cannabis products are missing. That pain-relieving topical you count on, or that creamy, chronic ice cream you’ve come to love? Gone, gone, gone. Budtenders apologize for the slim product selection, but a return date for those missing products seems hazy at best.
What’s going on?
I recently booked a broad range of cannabis professionals for a panel discussion called “Women in Cannabis,” and the topic of product shortages came up. I reached out afterwards to ask two panelists to elaborate.
Trista Okel owns and operates Empower BodyCare, a well-regarded line of THC- and CBD-infused oils and soaking salts. I asked her why Empower products, which have been available since 2013, have become increasingly difficult to find on the shelves.
She stresses the problem is related to the new costs of lab testing, which require both the concentrate and the finished product to be tested separately. “A full compliance test in Washington, California, or Colorado ranges from $80 to $250,” Okel explains, “but in Oregon, at least according to one lab, it now costs $3,500 to test our two-pound batch—approximately 900 grams—of concentrate. They also say that they need to sample a full 20 grams [out of that batch] to do the test, but the statute states that the tests only require 0.5 percent, which would only be 4.5 grams. Why they think they need 20 grams, I don’t understand. We had no indication that the cost of testing would become so outrageous after October 1, or that it would be so difficult to find tested concentrate with which to work.”
Those aren’t the only fees Okel faces. “According to this same lab,” she continues, “testing our topical products will cost about $1,200 per product per batch after we have the concentrate tested. And that’s not including the 20 one-ounce bottles of Empower Oil per batch that they want to take for sampling (which retail at $70 each). If nothing changes, it is likely that we will have to double our prices, which decreases accessibility to those who need the products most.”
Andi Bixel is the founder and CEO of Drip Ice Cream. Her story isn’t much more promising.
“For Drip to get our oil simply batch-tested, which is the bare minimum we can do to be able to use the leftover oil inventory we have already in house, it would cost us $1,500, versus what used to cost $150,” Bixel says. “And for us to get our ice cream tested—just one flavor—will be $2,000 versus what used to be $150. To get product on the shelf, we went from $300 to $3,500. And paying that fee doesn’t make us good forever, that’s just for a single batch.
“The OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission], OHA [Oregon Health Authority], and ORELAP [Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program] didn’t do an economic analysis before pushing the new rules through,” Bixel continues, “and the most frustrating part has been that they have called us in for testimony, asked for letters, and have been absolutely zero responsive in letting us know whether things will change or not, and when. They act as if they listen, but they don’t. It’s an ongoing issue with the rollout of new rules, where we continuously waste our time and resources on temporary rules that end up being changed, generally right after we’ve spent the money. This hit the industry at a really hard moment where we’re all working on switching from medical (OHA licensing) to recreational (OLCC licensing), a process that is both very time consuming and costly.
“We have now been shut down for more than seven weeks without the ability to sell, due to the testing rules. Like many other industry friends, we’ve had to lay off the majority of our staff. This big pushback is unfortunately making folks employed by cannabis companies feel wary about the stability of their future if they choose to continue working in this industry.”
One lab has told its customers to hold off testing, indicating a change may be in the works. Hopefully that’s the case, as this isn’t a sustainable situation, for producers, patients, or consumers.