Not sure you got as much marijuana as you paid for? Arizona inspectors are investigating complaints – AZCentral.com
Arizona has a state department that investigates when people feel they were shorted by grocery stores selling underweight packages of steaks or gas station pumps not dispensing a full gallon. Recently, the agency has found a new focus — marijuana shops.
In 2020, not one of the 66 package-weight inspections involved a marijuana dispensary, although the Weights and Measures Division of the Department of Agriculture also has worked with the industry by inspecting scales when medical-only cannabis sales were allowed in the state.
Legalized recreational marijuana sales in Arizona started in January, and since then, nearly one-third of the 46 package-weight inspections conducted by the department has involved marijuana operations. Most stemmed from customer complaints about underweight bags or jars of marijuana, or vape cartridges.
In some cases, the department initiates its own investigations.
But instead of finding widespread underweight problems, inspectors looking at marijuana products this year more often have found packaged measurements going in favor of consumers.
The few underweight products tend to be vape cartridges, which are sold in 1 gram and 0.5 gram portions that require precise measurement. With some of those items selling for more than $70, a fraction of a gram can mean a lot in terms of value for customers.
Weights and Measures relies on the National Institute of Standards and Technologies to determine whether a package has an “unreasonable” short weight. The institute, which is under the U.S. Department of Commerce, states that for anything weighing less than 36 grams, “unreasonable” means 10% or more short of the labeled weight.
Sometimes the state has run into problems inspecting the tiny vape devices because the weight of vape cartridges themselves can greatly vary. That makes getting a precise measurement of the pricey marijuana concentrate inside challenging.
Here’s what the 14 marijuana package inspections this year have found:
“We have placed a greater focus on conducting packaging inspections at marijuana facilities this year for the purposes of gathering data, developing relationships with the marijuana industry, providing education about Arizona’s packaging and labeling requirements, and determining if there is anything related to marijuana packaging that needs to be addressed at the National Conference on Weights and Measures,” said Kevin Allen, associate director with the Department of Agriculture for the division.
The National Conference on Weights and Measures has a cannabis task group working on standards and test procedures for cannabis packages, he said.
Arizona has a representative participating in that group who will take the lessons learned from inspections here and relay them to the national group developing national standards for marijuana packaging, he said.
On March 10, the department got a complaint that the vape cartridges at Health For Life dispensary on East McDowell Road in Mesa were short, and indeed the department found underweight products during its inspection.
The complaint specifically called out products from a brand called MPX, which are manufactured by the same company that owns the dispensary, iAnthus Capital Holdings Inc.
The company has more than 30 dispensaries in multiple states and stock traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange.
Inspector Cesar Rodriguez visited the dispensary on April 22.
He inspected 12 “Purple Kush” cartridges from the Black Label brand, also made by iAnthus, and 12 “Gas Pedal” cartridges under the company’s MPX brand.
Two of the Black Label units had “unreasonable” errors where the actual product weight was more than 10% less than indicated on the packaging. But the remaining nine units were above the advertised weight, so they could be repackaged and sold, according to the inspection notes.
All 12 of the Gas Pedal cartridges were above the advertised weight.
Representatives from Health for Life and iAnthus did not respond to multiple emails and calls to discuss the inspection.
Perhaps the most eventful incident this year took place when a consumer complained Feb. 18 about Green Farmacy in Bisbee selling underweight packages.
“This has been an ongoing problem for years and is now worse,” said the complaint, which the department keeps anonymous.
But when inspector Ken Ford showed up the next month, the workers would not allow the inspectors access to the merchandise, saying the state Department of Health Services would not allow it, which is incorrect.
Ford returned in June, this time with inspector Rodriguez, but again the shop workers would not allow inspectors into the facility, according to the Weights and Measures report.
Rodriguez called Bisbee Police, and an officer cited three dispensary workers for misdemeanors for violating state law that requires the department gain access for inspections, according to the report.
The inspection report said dispensary workers had “the owner” on speakerphone, but the dispensary’s owner, Paradise Valley resident Carsten Loelke, told The Arizona Republic that nobody called him that day.
Loelke said that the case is still open and that he could not discuss it.
Loelke also owns the YiLo Superstore dispensary in Phoenix, which the Attorney General’s Office hit with a cease-and-desist letter in 2020 for making claims regarding immunity and COVID-19.
Ford’s report said that after they were cited, the Bisbee dispensary workers agreed to allow the inspectors in, but it was too late in the day to complete the inspection, so it remains unknown whether the dispensary’s packages were accurately weighed.
The department visited Nirvana Center on Hardy Drive in Tempe on Sept. 23 and found underweight packages of two products, but the extensive inspection was a learning experience for the shop and the department.
The inspection was not prompted by a complaint.
The items that failed were 0.5 gram “Liquid Gold Cookies” cartridges, of which five of 12 samples were more than 10% underweight, and 1 gram glass jars of “Lotus Cake Batter,” of which seven of 12 samples were more than 10% underweight. The underweight items retailed for $25 and $30, respectively.
Two types of flower and a concentrate all passed.
Nirvana Center Operations Manager Alicia Bledsoe said the shop learned a lot from the inspection.
For example, the inspectors discussed with her how to ensure each vape cartridge gets filled precisely by ensuring the environmental conditions of the workspace are consistent from day to day, she said.
The batter product that failed is a waxy substance sold in chunks, which can present its own challenges when being processed and packaged to ensure a consistent amount ends up in each package.
“Next time they come in we will have a great idea of how they weigh things and I think it will go a lot smoother,” she said.
“These unannounced inspections can be nerve-wracking for our industry,” she said, adding they are happy to follow the same rules as other businesses and having Weights and Measures inspect them adds to the fledgling business sector’s legitimacy.
“In a sense, it’s giving us that respect our industry needs,” she said. “We are more than willing to comply.”
An Oct. 19 visit to Nature’s Wonders growing facility on Grand Avenue ran into issues with inconsistent packaging making the inspection more challenging.
Initially, the inspector found two of the three types of marijuana packages it inspected were underweight, but the notes from that inspection say they all passed once taken out of the packaging.
The department tested eighth-ounce packages of “Lemon Skunk X Cheese” and “Cherry Wifi” marijuana as well as prerolled joints, the latter two of which initially had underweight measurements.
Allen, from Weights and Measures, said the inspector had to remove the marijuana from the package to get an accurate weight. The products were all overweight when measured that way.
Generally, the department weighs empty packages first, then weighs full packages and subtracts the weight of the empty package to get a net weight for the contents. But if the packages are inconsistent, the department has to open the packages and weigh the contents, which destroys the merchandise even if it’s weighed properly.
While the weighs were all confirmed, the inspection found all three products failed for not having the required elements on their labels. The inspector provided the shop with a list of labeling requirements.
A Sept. 22 inspection at The Mint in Guadalupe tested a variety of products and found just one single vape cartridge underweight, which the shop blamed on inconsistent weights of empty cartridges.
The inspector unpackaged and weighed 12 “Tangie Mango” vape cartridges, and three were underweight, but just one was more than 10% underweight. Nine were overweight.
The underweight cartridge could not be sold following the inspection.
Eivan Shahara, CEO of Mint Cannabis, said the single cartridge that was deemed underweight was caused by the packaging.
“We independently weighed the product in question. What we confirmed was that it was not the weight of the medicine that was inconsistent. The weight of the product’s hardware varied by up to one half-gram. So the weight of the actual product that a consumer is buying is accurate,” Shahara said.
The inspection by Linda Wetzel also tested marijuana flower, marijuana extract and three varieties of the company’s brand of marijuana gummies, all of which were accurate or overweight, according to the report.
All of the 1 gram packages of marijuana concentrate, which at $80 were the most expensive product tested, were overweight, including one that was 40% overweight (a $32 error in favor of the customer).
“At the Mint, we take compliance very seriously. We hold ourselves to the highest standards to ensure consumer safety, consistency and accuracy of the products we sell,” Shahara said.
He said the dispensary has a good relationship with Weights and Measures.
“We … respect the work they do in all dispensaries, including ours,” he said. “Their efforts, in addition to our own independent and third-party inspections, help to ensure that all of the products on our shelves are in compliance.”
Considering the challenges with empty package weights and measurements taken down to hundredths of a gram, the industry will need time to learn how to comply with Weights and Measures’ expectations, said John Hartsell, CEO of DIZPOT, an Arizona company that provides packaging to cannabis companies, including many of those that have been inspected by Weights and Measures this year.
“I can guarantee every organization in this industry wants to follow the rules,” he said.
He said his company is ramping up its quality control to ensure consistent packaging.
“Our packages will weigh exactly the same, within thousandths of a point,” he said.
But he’s still concerned because the quantities are so small and he said organic products like marijuana can dry out over time, reducing their weight and possibly causing them to fail an inspection.
“When we are talking about such minuscule fractions of numbers, a tenth of a gram, it means quite a lot to the Department of Weights and Measures but not to the consumer purchasing the package,” he said. “If you put 3.5 grams of marijuana in a bag and let that bag sit for two or three weeks, it’s going to weigh different than when you put 3.5 grams in it.”
Most of the department’s inspections in the past year have found dispensaries to be compliant with packaging and weight regulations:
Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.
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Arizona has a state department that investigates when people feel they were shorted by grocery stores selling underweight packages of steaks or gas station pumps not dispensing a full gallon. Recently, the agency has found a new focus — marijuana shops.In 2020, not one of the 66 package-weight inspections involved a marijuana dispensary, although the Weights and…