ISO Accreditation Is Not Always What It Seems: Why Some Labs Are Only Certified at the Bare Minimum

ISO Accreditation Is Not Always What It Seems: Why Some Labs Are Only Certified at the Bare Minimum

The marijuana legalization debate continues to be at the forefront of political and social conversations across the US. More states are continuing to legalize the plant, and consumer demand has only increased and will continue to do so. But, it is still something that has yet to be legalized federally, and a lack of federal legalization makes it difficult for consumers to know whether the product they’re consuming is safe or even legitimate. Consumers across the country are reporting the dangers of unregulated marijuana[1] as businesses continue to sell the plant without it being tested. Most CBD and hemp products are not tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which results in a lack of regulation and quality control, ultimately making it even more challenging and unsafe, in some cases, for consumers to have full faith that their proclaimed CBD and hemp-based products even contain traces of the plant.

As a resident of Nevada, one of the first states to legalize marijuana both medically and recreationally, I wanted to understand why the plant is not fully tested before being distributed and sold to the consumer. In researching the various marijuana testing labs across the state, I quickly learned that DB Labs is unequivocally one of the leading authorities in consumer and patient safety regulations in the state of Nevada and across the country. The lab boasts an esteemed resume: founded in 2014 and located in Las Vegas, DB Labs was the first cannabis lab certified to open for cannabis testing by its home state. Its testing procedures are meticulously thorough and stringent—its in-depth inspections of each of its products test over sixty contaminants, including microbials, heavy metals, mycotoxins, solvents, and pesticides. And, it seems, its exhaustive testing has only further propelled its reverence throughout the state and country—the lab touts over fifteen certifications and awards. Its reputation seems irrefutable, and I wanted to find out more about its testing procedures and how it differs from the rest of the testing facilities in the state.

As I began interviewing the staff at DB Labs, I got an insider look on how they operate their business and laboratory. All of the staff attested to the thoroughness of their practices and testing techniques, highlighting their intellectual prowess and overall competence in their work. One term that was repeatedly mentioned throughout my interactions with them, specifically in regard to the standards by which they hold themselves, was “ISO certified.” The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) accredits organizations and laboratories for their ability to demonstrate that they operate competently and can produce valid results[2]. The standards set by ISO are meant to provide consistent, thorough testing that can translate from company to company, state to state, country to country. However, although this testing is a formidable achievement for any lab, it’s not all-encompassing, as some marijuana testing labs take advantage of the lack of oversight. Susan Bunce, the president of DB Labs, further explained: “The world of cannabis testing is often compared to the Wild West: each lab uses state regulations to set their standards, but it leaves a lot of room for subjective interpretations.” Her statement is decidedly worrisome, but it provides a glimpse as to why there is such a glaring disparity between products DB Labs approves versus the dangerous products available, sold, and distributed in the market today.

As a result of the subjective interpretations of the ISO certification and lax regulations by the state of Nevada, many testing labs are only meeting the bare minimum qualifications just to fulfill the regulation requirement. Although a testing lab can tout an ISO certification, not all of the tests they conduct are ISO/IEC 17025 accredited. I had an opportunity to sit down with Stacy Gardalen, the co-founder and laboratory director of DB Labs, and she explained how important this specific certification is to marijuana testing facilities, and how DB Labs is raising the bar, not only in Nevada but across the US, too. She cares deeply about the lack of oversight of marijuana products, asserting the necessity of consumers taking the reins for themselves to ensure their product is safe to consume: “It’s concerning when a laboratory chooses to do this. It’s like giving a driver’s license to a 16-year-old without seeing if they can actually drive. They are not being verified for those tests and are risking quality. Customers should protect themselves when choosing a lab and verify the lab’s certificate is valid for all tests they need.”

As DB Labs has earned the coveted ISO 17025:2017 accreditation, it ensures, as Stacy points out, “all of our procedures and methods are strictly managed and controlled, culminating in a stringent quality control process.” But, DB Labs goes even further, as they refuse to take advantage of the loophole in state and ISO regulation by testing all of their products for its consumer safety and ISO accreditation eligibility. “We strive to make sure that all the tests we run regularly are a part of our accreditation process,” Stacy continued, “Not only have we demonstrated competence for all the tests required by the state of Nevada, but we have added other scopes to our certificate to prove that we have the capabilities to do those tests as well.” Ultimately, DB Labs serves as a guiding beacon for consumers, sellers, and distributors in a murky, inconsistently regulated market where buyers can rest assured that the products DB Labs verifies are stringently tested and safe.