Store Stenchyness – Don’t let the Friendlies Kill You

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Store Stenchyness – Don’t let the Friendlies Kill You

This is intended to be #7 in my series of PSAs (Patient Service Announcements). I hope you are all enjoying the medical market that our legislators created for you in SSB-5052. At least the CPC products are back on the market and some of the old growers and dispensaries have made it over. Too few, though. Sigh…..

As of April 24, the DOH Patient database contained 20,516 patients and designated providers who have been registered and have received valid Patient Recognition cards.

Wow! That’s the biggest audience I’ve ever reached out to. Much more than some 1,400 farmers and processors. Much MUCH more than a measly few hundred retail access points. Extremely much more than the tiny number of Legislators and Regulators in Washington who seem to care about patients for whom Cannabis fills part of their medical needs.

You 20,516 brave souls represent approximately 0.286% of Washington’s population (or 1 in 350 Washingtonians). That’s a wee bit lower than the number of patients that all estimates I’ve seen (or done) suggest are out there. I’ll be optimistic and presume that the audience for this posting is even bigger than the 20K patients thusfar willing to out themselves as such to the authorities.

I hope that the following list of stores will be of use to all consumers that care about what they put into or onto their bodies, possibly to regulators, and certainly to that subset of regulators who are also consumers that care.

In late 2015 and early 2016 I posted a series of articles on HI-Blog (www.highintelligence.org) that revealed a group of labs that appeared to be inflating reported potency levels and/or were failing to fail product (for safety & health-related reasons) at expected levels. Links to each of those articles are at the bottom of this post … as are links to two more recent follow-up posts.

Over the past year, a new lab has burst onto the scene and has been able to establish themselves as the dominant testing lab in the State. They have done so, in part, by delivering potency levels way higher than virtually everyone else AND a QA Failure rate even lower than that of their Friendly peers. Recently, they have been even more Friendly than the Friendlies.

During the 3rd trimester of 2016 (which this work is based on), over 80% of the flower being purchased by Retailers across the State had been tested by either the new “inflator” (Peak Analytics Laboratory Testing Services) or by one of the labs that I originally classified as being “Friendly” to their customers (by either inflating potency or allowing substandard product to be sold … or both).

By way of reference, these Friendly labs were (in alphabetical order):
-Confidence Analytics (in Redmond)
-Green Grower Labs (in Spokane)
-Integrity Labs (in Olympia)
-Testing Technologies, Inc. (in Poulsbo)
-and another one that has since closed

I referred to these labs as being “Friendly” in that passing bad lots allows the lots to be sold and reporting very high Cannabinoid levels is likely to result in product selling more quickly and at higher average prices. Both of these things are, clearly, Friendly to the cash-strapped processor (and to Retailers that want high-potency product on their shelves). Friendly to the customers. Give the customers what they want.

To be clear, I consider the Friendly behavior on the part of these labs to be BAD in that information reported by them appears to be either inaccurate and/or untrustworthy (at least it did during the 3-month period on which I based my initial lab analysis). Further, to be very clear, I am also of the firm belief that allowing bad quality product onto the market (product that likely should have failed QA testing) and allowing product onto the market that systematically over-states potency (sometimes to what appears to be a very large degree) are two behaviors that are VERY BAD.

Such “Friendly” reporting can reliably be expected to harm consumers, to harm sensitive patients and to harm anyone unfortunate to be on the receiving end of poor judgments made by consumers whose knowledge of “how much cannabis I can handle before I drive or operate heavy machinery or go out back for some target practice with the kids” has been informed by Friendly or, perhaps even more frighteningly, by PEAK results.

The labs that did not show evidence of “Friendly” potentially patient-killing behavior were the following:
-Analytical 360, LLC (in Yakima and Seattle)
-Anatek Labs (in Spokane)
-G.O.A.T. Labs (in Vancouver)
-Trace Analytics (in Spokane)
-Steep Hill Labs (in Tukwila)

I referred to these labs as being PRAGUE (reporting results that appeared Proficient, Reproducible, Accurate, Good, Unbiased, and Empirical). I consider PRAGUE behavior to be GOOD in that information reported by such Laboratories appears to be both accurate and trustworthy.

Put simply, I trust what PRAGUE-tested labels say much more than I trust what Friendly-tested labels say.

The other labs in operation at the time did not have sufficient volumes of data for me to be comfortable categorizing them on the Bad/Friendly ——Good/PRAGUE scale.

Similarly, with the exception of Peak Analytics, I have not yet categorized any of the newer labs on the Friendly—PRAGUE scale. Peak is such an outlier that it’s impact on the market is noticeable.

Enough background.
Below, I have included a list of the “Best” and “Worst” stores in the State with respect to how much they tend to buy product tested by PEAK and/or the other Friendlies vs. how much they tend to buy product tested by PRAGUE labs.

Looking at all purchases of Flower (usable MJ which includes some joints and most bud) made by Washington Retailers in the last 4 months of 2016, I compiled the percentage of that flower that had been tested by the following 3 groups:
-PEAK
-the Original Friendly labs
-the Original PRAGUE Laboratories

I then ran a fancy multivariate segmentation thingamagijjy after excluding a handful of retailers that did not buy much flower between Sept and Dec.

Effectively, the segmentation revealed “natural groupings” of stores that differentiated them on the degree to which the stench of Friendliness permeated their shelves. I will refer to that as the Stenchyness of the Stores.

Remember, over 80% (80.4% for those keeping track) of the flower purchases that made it into my analysis were either tested by PEAK Analytics or by one of the 4 active Friendly labs. The following list displays the 19 “Best” stores and the 15 “Worst” stores in the State with respect to the degree to which the Stench of Friendliness permeates the Flower inventory they purchased in the latter 1/3 of 2016.

The first 3 stores get a special call-out, in that less than 30% of their flower purchases were tested by PEAK and/or the Friendly labs. This could be by chance, but it certainly appears that these stores may be taking into account which lab has tested the products in making their purchasing decisions. (I’ve sorted these alphabetically within County and City).

I feel rather fortunate, as 2 of these “top-3” stores are within a reasonable drive of my home. I expect to be visiting each of them over the next week or so (this is probably the only thing that Everett – let alone Snohomish County – has gotten right in their rollout of State-legal Cannabis).

Similarly, the next 16 stores are all at least 20 percentage points below the state average in the proportion of product on their shelves that has been tested by PEAK and/or the Friendly labs.

While only 12.8% of all Flower in the State was tested by PRAGUE (Good) Laboratories, these top 19 stores averaged almost 50%. Again, it could be by chance, but these stores seem to be taking who tested the product into account in sourcing the product they supply to their customers. As a potential local consumer, I was happy to see that Seattle has 4 stores on the “GOOD” list.

On the flip end of the “Stenchyness” scale, the bottom 15 stores have, on average, stocked almost 90% of the Useable MJ on their shelves with bags and jars and cones whose contents were tested by either PEAK and/or by the Friendly labs. At the same time (and with little surprise given that the total % cannot exceed 100 in the way I do arithmetic), these stores, on average, stocked PRAGUE-tested product just less than 5% of the time. One of these stores actually had 100% of the flower they purchased last fall tested by Peak and/or The Friendlies.

This may also be by chance. It may (given that PEAK is located in the far NW corner of the State) be partially due to geography. That likely has something to do with the preponderance of “BAD” stores in Whatcom County and the absolute lack of “GOOD” ones up there (as herein defined). Regardless – if you buy product in these “BAD” stores, you are much more likely than not to be buying product tested by PEAK and/or by a Friendly lab.

I truly hope that you find utility in this breakdown of stores based on their Stenchyness. I have labelled the stores as “BEST, “GOOD”, and “WORST” to give you a useful categorization tag. No value judgement should be implied or inferred from this labelling. I’ve just always thought Stenchyness should be avoided when better-smelling alternatives exist. The smell of lab Stenchyness is not a good smell in my perceptual map.

So …. What might one do with this list?

Whatever one wishes to.

Talking to stores about how they purchase and what they purchase might work. Talking with your dollars may, as well.

Ultimately, if you choose to purchase and what you choose to purchase and WHERE you choose to purchase is on you.

It is my firm belief that the labels of product tested by the PRAGUE labs are less likely (on average) to lead you astray and/or to otherwise misinform you than are those produced by PEAK and/or by the Friendly labs.

It is, further, my firm belief (stemming directly from the above firm belief) that product with accurate labelling and properly conducted and reported QA results is also less likely to harm you and/or others around you.

As I have said in other postings, you should always ask which Lab tested product before you make a purchase. Retailers are required to supply this information if asked. If they are unable to, it would be quite appropriate for you to complain to them and to lodge a formal complaint with the LCB.

Complaining to the LCB, while a form of narcing, would at least give their rule-enforcement officers something more useful and helpful to do than to entrap store-owners using innocent young children. I increasingly wonder if the red-hot-hand of masturbatory poisonousness (the idiotic label that the LCB now requires be on all medibles) has been placed on these under-cover children’s time cards down at the LCB. They probably at least supply counselling to the kiddies to help repair the damage that being underage in a Cannabis Retail store can do to a child. Maybe they get free cigarettes as part of the job.

It has been my experience that many of our Retailers are not able to supply lab information upon request. If they are not able to and you care about what you are putting into (or onto) your body, you are probably better off if you shop at the “Good” stores on the list than if you shop at the “Bad” stores on the list. I’d still ask them what lab tested the product. My bet (this is sheer speculation) is that the “Good” stores will be able to tell you more frequently and more rapidly than will the “Bad” ones.

It is also possible that these stores’ purchases from the last 4 months of 2016 are not representative of anything other than chance and that the stores do not pay any attention whatsoever to who tests the product they purchase. It is also possible that North Korea will nuke the U.S. on Trump’s 100th day in office. Personally, I believe each of these scenarios are unlikely to be true. However, one never knows with absolute certainty.

By limiting this listing to only the “Best” and “Worst” outliers on the Stenchyness scale, the likelihood that the results are by chance is reduced. I welcome your feedback on this approach and on my reasoning.

On another note …. even if the Stenchyness of their fall purchases does reflect a systematic embracing of Friendly labs (and/or Peak-facilitated potency chasing) by the Stenchy stores please remember that this is only one dimension on which stores can be differentiated. To some people, it is likely a dimension that they don’t give a rat’s ass about. To patients with respiratory disorders or with compromised immune function, I’d imagine that many of them do care about what they put into and onto their bodies.

How much stores contribute to “decent wages for farmers” and how much of a markup they choose to implement and the product mix they choose to carry and the price-points they set and their violation history and how they engage with their local community and how they treat their employees and all kinds of other value-laden things (some of which are derivable from the data and some of which are not) are all potentially relevant to those wishing to make better-informed purchasing decisions in this marketplace.

Just as product tested by a “Bad” lab is not necessarily bad or of weaker potency than labelled, product tested by a “Good” lab is not necessarily good or of exactly the potency that is on the label. For that matter, some of the product that I am pretty darn sure is good has been tested by Friendly labs. I don’t buy such product and that sucks, as some of it is grown by folks I like and respect.

The unfortunate truth of this market is that the WSLCB, with full knowledge that Friendliness has permeated the Testing market they regulate, has allowed the dynamic to cycle to the point that it is increasingly difficult to find product tested by a lab that I, at least, trust and would be willing to endorse.

At the risk of being repetitive, I am quite happy to endorse (and I get absolutely ZERO monetary or tangible benefit from doing so) the following labs:
-Analytical 360, LLC (in Yakima and Seattle)
-Anatek Labs (in Spokane)
-G.O.A.T. Labs (in Vancouver)
-Trace Analytics (in Spokane)
-Steep Hill Labs (in Tukwila)

I do not endorse the Friendly labs (one actually used my earlier label of them as “Friendly” in some marketing materials that billed them as one of the Friendliest labs in the State). That taught me not to use cute labels.

I do not endorse Peak Analytics. (check out the PEAK POTENCY link at the bottom of this article)

For all the other labs, I have not made any judgements about them. The fact that their market shares tend to be low suggests they are more likely “GOOD” than “BAD”. Many of them are also new to the market. It may not yet have corrupted their behavior.

If enough consumers start asking who tested the product before they purchase and if the regulators and industry participants that are allowing this epidemic of Friendliness to run unchecked start doing something to curtail it, then perhaps the day will come when the label on your product is something that you can trust. For the most part, I do not believe that to be the case in Washington today.

I hope you find this list informative and/or useful.

Please let me know by way of commenting on this post if there are any other things you might want to know about the Stores (and/or Farmers and Processors) of Washington. I will prioritize addressing those asks that seem relevant to better informing the Patients that have been forced to either source their meds from this incompetently regulated marketplace or, once again, become criminals (or — of course — simply become good citizens and stop using Cannabis as medicine).

Here is a full listing of direct links to all of my HI-Blog postings related to lab potency. Many of them are long. Most have graphs and one has an animated chart on potency.

Have a wonderful day …. Let’s hope the rains end soon.

Prior HI-Blog Postings on the Labs –

The Original Friendliness / Truthiness series:

How Wet is Your BUD? – Initial Work Investigating Lab Results 11/18/2015
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2015/11/how-wet-is-your-bud-initial-work-investigating-lab-results/

Microbes Ingesting Solvents? 12/05/2015
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2015/12/microbes-ingesting-solvents/

Cannabinoid Profile Test Results 12/18/2015
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2015/12/cannabinoid-profile-test-results/

Labbiness in Washington Labs: Where is truthiness when you need it? 12/29/2015
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2015/12/labbiness-in-washington-labs-where-is-the-truthiness-when-you-need-it/

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, then a Video Must be Worth a Billion 01/02/2016
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2016/01/if-a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-then-a-video-must-be-worth-a-billion/

…. And 2 more recent updates:

FRIENDLY IS AS FRIENDLY DOES 05/16/2016
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2016/05/friendly-is-as-friendly-does/

PEAK POTENCY 3/29/17
http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/2017/03/peak-potency-lab-friendliness-is-back-with-a-gusto/

*Warning* – while you may find these Blog articles more engaging (and their length more tolerable) if read while medicated, please be aware that consuming Cannabis products tested by Friendly labs (and certainly if tested by PEAK Analytics) may be dangerous to your health and to the health of those around you. Consuming such products may, further, be dangerous to the maturation of Washington’s State-legal Cannabis market and to it’s ultimate standing and respectability within the larger National and International Cannabis markets that are bound to eventually exist. I’d not be surprised if consuming such products was also differentially dangerous to any unborn children that may be on board and to the ability of males to produce viable sperm in the future (of course, due to oxymoronic Federal restrictions, there is little to no Scientific evidence available with which to support or challenge this assertion).

Given that last bit, and the fact that I am an empiricist at heart, I take the Warning above back.

Never mind.

12 Comments

  1. Danielle says:

    Thank you for your articles Jim. It’s always fascinating. Looking at your graphs on PEAK POTENCY 3/29/17 (http://www.straightlineanalytics.biz/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Labs2016_Potency.png), it appears that since July 2016 the “friendly” labs have a testing average of below the objective or PRAUGE labs. Am I reading this correctly?

    • Jim MacRae says:

      Danielle – I held off on responding to your question, as I thought that I had answered this question previously and wanted to both check that and to look again at the lab data before answering you, to see if I could share some new light on the question.
      The text of that original question, and my response is copied in it’s entirety below.

      Before that, though. I want to emphasize that I’ve now checked the second point below (Rats leaving the sinking ship of dishonesty and/or black hole from which proficiency cannot escape) and can confirm that the decline in average potency levels displayed by the Friendly labs seen since folks started paying attention to lab reporting is differentially a function of how CONfidence’s numbers changed over that period of time. I expect I will be writing a (hopefully not too muckraking) article on that before this weeks’ WSLCB Board meetings. The relevant graphics are telling — particularly when superimposed over the very-nicely-smoothed family of distributions that the glorious Washington Cannabis Laboratory Association included in it’s recent complaint to the WSLCB regarding CONfidence’s primary competitor.

      /*Mark Collins’ original question on PEAK POTENCY Article*/
      Do you think there is a reason the “friendly” labs thc is now lower than “objective” labs? Is it so they can pass more for QA and still look objective? Is there anywhere we can find out the different labs market share?
      I will say your assessment of who’s to blame is pretty spot On!

      /*My response to Mark follows:*/
      Mark — my apologies for not replying to your question earlier.

      The three main reasons that I believe the Friendly labs are now reporting average THCmax levels below that of the Objective Labs are:

      -there is an overall trend of increasing potency (true potency) as farmers dial in their processes and adapt to and/or optimize growing and processing at the scale afforded by and the constraints imposed by this market

      -the Friendly rats are leaving the sinking ship of dishonesty and/or the black hole from which proficiency cannot escape. In order to be above suspicion (liability?), they must be seen to be as objective as – if not more objective than – truly Objective, caring, honest and/or proficient (PRAGUE) Labs. In the same way they were able to or lucky enough to report inflated values in the good old days, they (or the fates) can tweak the dials for lower levels today, if they so choose.

      -two of the Objective labs (remember that the classification is based on their behavior before they knew anyone was looking at them and, hence, I believe reflects a core characteristic, value, and/or capability of those so classified) are showing recent signs of inflationary behavior. One in particular has been reporting levels even higher than those coming out of lab 0015 over the past 3 months (you know who you are … and I’d imagine the LCB does now too — lucky for you that they seem either non-proficient or non-caring in their regulation of product safety and accuracy in labelling).

      With regards to lab share (specifically, the share of potency tests for Flower lots conducted in the 3rd Trimester of 2016 (Sept-Dec):
      Lab 0015 has the highest share of the 18 operating labs, at 28.1%
      Rounding out the top five are three Friendlies – (labs 0003 at 24.5%, 0012 at 13.6% and 0009 at 9.4%) and one Objective Lab (lab 0004 at 8.6%).

      Bottom line – most of the product on the shelves in Washington late last year was tested by either a lab currently inflating potency and/or failing-to-fail bad samples or by a lab that appeared to be doing so when I did my original Lab Friendlyness / Truthiness work.

      Thanks again for asking, Mark.

  2. Andrew says:

    ‘Complaining to the LCB, while a form of narcing’– narcing? No way, why are they entitled to 37% of ‘friendly’ sales?

    • Jim MacRae says:

      Andrew — I believe it is narcing. I also believe that narcing is appropriate if it is done for a greater good (other than to undermine a competitor unfairly — which is a selfish good).

      The STATE is entitled to 37% excise tax (on Patients, too) because our Legislature formed the law that way. The WSLCB are just the most proximal enforcement arm of that tax- and fee- collecting machine.

      One should not criticize the goon that is about to break one’s legs for failing to pay the loan-shark on time.
      Similarly, one should not criticize the LCB for being on top of the duties and obligations required of them by law (and, admittedly, by their occasionally perverse implementations of those laws through the rules they write and enforce).

      At least they just levy fines and warnings and escalations and, occasionally, license suspensions and removals.
      No broken legs (that I’m aware of) in this marketplace …. just broken dreams (and, for fair balance, a few successes).

  3. Daisie kallop says:

    Good report Allison! People need more information! I like the Analytical 360 lab, good people!

    • Jim MacRae says:

      Daisie — your comment confused me, until I realized that Alison Draisin had shared or re-posted or whatever one does on Facebook to my post on Store Stenchyness. Thank-you for doing that, Alison! … I appreciate your comment, Daisie … and I’m sure Alison does as well.

  4. Lauren Downes says:

    Nice work again Jim. Interesting point about retailers not providing the Certificates Of Analysis upon the customers request. It is required according to the WAC, yet the LCB does not enforce it. The new game is terpenes Jim. Potencies have seemed to plateau a little (except at Peak) but terpene percentages have skyrocketed. 11% terpenes in flower? These so called labs should be ashamed. We should catch up live soon and please stop into The Grass Station if you pass through Ritzville. Thank you for taking the time to keep us informed.

    • Jim MacRae says:

      Thank-you, Lauren.

      I appreciate the heads-up on the terpenes.

      The “character” implied by labs that displayed Friendly behavior in the days before they knew anyone other than the dedicated employees of RJ Lee were looking over their shoulders might be expected to surface should other opportunities for self-enrichment arise.

      One of the things I’ve been speculating about (given how “character” is a fairly large predictor of future decisions and behavior) is how a Friendly lab that has been able to manage it’s potency levels down to a level that should be above the now-arisen suspicion of the sleepy bureaucrats in Olympia is able to exercise their apparent need to gain and/or keep market-share in what is clearly a very competitive lab-testing market.

      There are a few things that have come to mind as to how a Friendly might still be able to be Friendly in a market where blatant and obvious Friendliness might cause problems with regulators. I’d love to hear what others think (little things such as … if you use a Friendly lab — but are a relatively small customer in terms of test volume — do you sincerely believe that you are getting test results that are at the same level of PRAGUE-ness as those enjoyed by that lab’s largest-volume customer? Just thinkin’ (instead of calculating, for a change).

      I gather that your store just recently opened (hence, it’s not in my current analysis set). Too bad. I’ll stop by the next time I’m driving to or from Spokane. I look forward to hearing your thoughts regarding the two stores you no doubt took notice of on the Smellyness lists.

      • George Washington says:

        I happen to know that Peak advises their customers to submit freshly harvested flowers when requesting a terpene test. Shameful.

        • Jim MacRae says:

          I guess the courts would call this “hearsay”.

          What the fuck … I’m not a court and have heard many PEAK-related stories from people in the industry I trust (and that I believe share my ideals of honesty and fairness). Those stories are not directionally inconsistent with what you were generous enough to share.

          Thank-you for sharing.

  5. Karen says:

    Interesting article. But I think you’re over-simplifying this and coming after dispensaries like it’s their fault. The reality is that dispensaries don’t often have access to which lab produced the testing until the product is already sitting in the store, ordered. And budtenders can tell customers that the testing is unreliable until they’re blue in the face, but the fact is a “30%” strain, however bullshit the testing is on it, will sell better than a truthful “18%”, even when budtenders insist that we should ignore testing. Not only that, but a majority of the Worst Dispensaries are mostly located in higher density dispensary areas. Bellingham has the most per capita I believe, so you have to consider the fact that if you have a store of weed ethically testing all under 20% it’s both easy and likely for a customer to walk out and go to the dispensary a block away and get some “30%” bud.

    I’m not saying dispensaries can’t do better, but I feel like they are pretty far removed from the issue. The fact is that we don’t have enough regulation on the LABS which allows them to get away with unethical practices. Even producers can’t always know if the testing is bunk or not. I’ve been to several locations on the Worst list and each time I go in the budtenders tell me to ignore the numbers because they are unregulated. They’re not trying to serve up dangerous weed, but they are limited by the supply and demand of their environment if they want to stay in business.

    I really appreciate all the research you’ve put for and think it’s a critical discussion, but I would disagree that dispensaries have as much ability to control the labs that producers and processors use as this article implies.

    • Jim MacRae says:

      Thank-you, Karen. I enjoyed your comment.

      I believe that I’ll work up a post specifically targeting different places where I believe portions of the blame lie.
      It obviously goes well beyond the stores (naïve customers, inept regulators, even-more-inept subcontractors of the regulators, wholesalers, retailers and, frankly, me for raising this time-sucking issue in the first place.

      At least most seem to think it is a worthwhile issue to have been raised.

      It’ll be awhile, but I’ll try to get to a “Blame Game” post within the next few weeks.

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