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Study Finds 40% of NYC Illicit Cannabis is Contaminated

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

December 6, 2022

Cannabis grinder with ground weed on grey background with copy space

iStock

Approximately 40 percent of illicit cannabis products purchased at unlicensed retailers in

City were found to contain potentially dangerous contaminants including bacteria and heavy metals, according to a report from a trio of regulated cannabis industry trade groups. The report, which was commissioned by the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association, the Cannabis Trade Association and the Connecticut Medical Cannabis Council, found that products purchased at 20 unlicensed retailers tested positive for contaminants including E. coli, salmonella and lead.

The investigation tested 40 illicit marijuana products including cannabis flower, vapes and edibles purchased at unlicensed New York City retailers in August. The products were analyzed for THC potency and eight contaminants including pesticides, heavy metals including nickel and lead, and microbial contamination such as salmonella and E. coli. About 40 percent were found to be contaminated, while one product tested contained twice the amount of THC indicated on the product label, according to the report released last week. Nine of the products contained less THC than advertised on the package.

also noted that none of the 40 products complied with the branding regulations recently proposed by the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), the regulatory body tasked with implementing cannabis legalization in New York. Many included copyrighted intellectual material from established food brands that could be confused with actual products, the report noted.

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Recreational Cannabis Legalized in New York Last Year

 New York lawmakers

recreational marijuana for adults and authorized regulated adult-use cannabis sales with the passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) in 2021. Since then, the New York Cannabis Control Board and the OCM have been busy drafting the regulations to govern cannabis production and retail sales, which are slated to begin before the end of 2022.

“Just as the Empire State is poised to achieve that significant goal,” the industry association said in the report, “new illicit operators have sprung up, latching on to the coattails of the respected pre-existing legacy market and threatening both public health and safety and the long-term success of legal operators.”

The unlicensed operators have proliferated into a robust grey market for unregulated cannabis in New York. Many of the illicit retailers falsely advertise the sale of THC products as legal or licensed, according to the report, which accused the operators of misleading consumers by selling products that counterfeit popular consumer products including name-brand chocolates, candies, gummies and other well-known snacks.

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Contaminated Cannabis Poses Serious Risks

Tyler Williams, the founder of safety certification firm

, noted that some types of bacteria identified in the report can be a serious health hazard.

“There a various different types of E. coli. Some are more severe than others (i.e., Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC),” Williams wrote in an email to High There. “Symptoms vary but usually cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. For some people, particularly children under five years of age, the infection can lead to the development of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a serious disease that can cause kidney damage or failure and other serious health problems. Hospitalization is often required because transfusions of blood, plasma exchange or kidney dialysis may be necessary.” 

“Just like E. coli, there are different species and subspecies of Salmonella that cause various effects on the body,” Williams continued. “Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headaches. Typhoidal Salmonellosis can also cause Typhoid fever. Symptoms of typhoid fever include extremely high fever, lethargy, cramps, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and rash. Typhoid fever can last between two and four weeks.”

Regulators

the first 30 licenses awarded to cannabis retailers in November.

Earlier this year, the OCM sent cease-and-desist orders to unlicensed retailers, directing them to end unpermitted sales of cannabis.

“Allowing these unregulated, illicit operations to continue operating with impunity will only exacerbate an already alarming public health trend, especially among teens and young adults who either are unaware of or choose to ignore the health risks,” the industry report maintains.

A.J. Herrington

About The Author

A.J. Herrington

HIGH THERE MISSION

WE’RE A CREATIVE COMMUNITY — EXPLORING THE SCIENCE, CRAFT, AND CULTURE OF CANNABIS.
WE BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE A COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS ERADICATING THE STIGMA, MISINFORMATION, AND INEQUITIES SURROUNDING THIS PLANT, SO WE CAN UNLOCK ITS TRUE POTENTIAL FOR ALL.

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