The Hidden Implications of Cannabis Rescheduling
USDA Organic Labeling Is Now Within Reach
In August 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally recommended marijuana be rescheduled from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III controlled substance in a first move toward federal weed legalization.
In the federal government’s eyes, this would align marijuana with drugs like ketamine and testosterone, make it federally legal to get with a prescription, and define it as having “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” As it stands in Schedule I, the plant is currently likened to heroin and viewed as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Even more momentous than the US federal government finally acknowledging the medical validity of the cannabis plant will be the effects the potential rescheduling has on the country’s 37 legal state cannabis markets (and counting).
Although there are proponents for and against the rescheduling recommendation, one major benefit the cannabis industry has acknowledged is the elimination of the 280E Internal Revenue tax code that’s currently burdening all plant-touching businesses. Under Schedule I, plant-touching businesses can only deduct costs of goods sold from their federal taxes, meaning things like rent, utilities, advertising, and payroll aren’t allowed as deductions. Schedule III substances don’t have to comply with 280E, so those businesses currently struggling under a federal tax rate that can sometimes be as high as 80 percent would have a greater chance of survival.
Relieving that tax burden is significant and necessary when considering the other changes that could come with cannabis rescheduling. For example, if the plant were to be rescheduled to Schedule III, medical marijuana goods would become subject to the same medical laws and requirements as other drugs in Schedule III like anabolic steroids and Tylenol with codeine. That means, for medical markets, there would be much greater oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With no current FDA involvement or broad standards for the types of testing medical cannabis products must pass before being eligible to sell, regulatory laws across the country are likely to experience major changes.
One potential implication of FDA cannabis regulation could be standards around mold and yeast content, something that currently varies by state. While some states have fairly strict laws around mold and yeast counts, like Massachusetts and Louisiana, others, like Connecticut and Florida, have taken a more lenient approach. Although we don’t yet know how the FDA might change mold and yeast count regulations, businesses should be prepared for change around current state-level standards.
On that topic, the FDA’s potential involvement means eligible cannabis brands may finally be able to claim USDA Organic status. However, it’s important for brands to recognize that, as it currently stands, food products treated with ionizing radiation to reduce yeast and mold counts are ineligible to be USDA Organic by FDA standards. It’s fair to assume cannabis products treated with ionizing radiation, such as X-ray, will also be ineligible for USDA Organic status, especially medical products.
Instead, the FDA could implement its current rule for food products treated with ionizing radiation and require cannabis products treated with that technology to be labeled with the Radura, the international symbol that signifies a product has been irradiated. This label update could have a negative impact on a brand’s consumer trust and loyalty.
Time will tell whether the US federal government decides to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III substance, but one thing that’s for certain is change at the federal level is coming, and cultivators need to have a plan in place for whenever federal oversight begins. For those concerned about passing regulatory compliance for mold and yeast content but not willing to compromise their product with ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation like Radio Frequency could be the answer.
Radio Frequency is already used to remediate foods like nuts and seeds, which are all regulated by the FDA. The technology is approved for USDA Organic operations as it has no impact on a product’s molecular structure. It simply uses long radio wavelengths to create an oscillating electromagnetic field around and within the product, causing moisture molecules to sync with the vibration and rotate in unison with it. The friction this generates creates enough heat to kill microbial pathogens without getting too hot to degrade or decarb THC, maintaining the chemical integrity of the plant.
Ziel is the cannabis industry’s leader in Radio Frequency remediation, having been granted the first-ever U.S. Patent for processes that include the treatment of cannabis with Radio Frequency in 2020. To learn more about what Ziel can do for your operation in preparation of federal change, contact us today.
U.S. Consumers and Growers Remain Concerned About Cannabis Treated With Ionizing Radiation
“Cannabis irradiation poses quandary for growers, scares consumers” by David Hodes of MJBizDaily explores the reasons why some cannabis cultivators feel forced to irradiate their flower despite the potential harm it could cause their product and their customer base. Hodes talks with laboratories in the U.S., as well as European cultivators, to learn why consumers remain wary of cannabis treated with ionizing radiation and what U.S. regulators can learn from the microbial guidelines of established cannabis markets.
Why Radio Frequency Is a Superior Solution to Ionizing Radiation for Both Cannabis Regulators and Consumers
Similar to other agricultural commodities, cannabis must pass regulatory compliance testing for microbial pathogens before it can be legally sold to consumers. Currently, cannabis cultivators have a few options to treat their flower, the most common being: ionizing radiation technology like gamma, X-ray, and e-beam or non-ionizing radiation such as radio frequency.
Although the cannabis industry is new across the globe, a trend in cannabis decontamination tech is already emerging. While both ionizing and non-ionizing tech are equally successful in reducing mold and pathogens, the similarity ends when evaluating the impact on the original product quality. So much so that regulators in Canada and Germany have implemented extra rules for product treated with ionizing radiation to warn consumers of its usage, and states in the United States are discussing the same.
Cultivators have also taken note of the current regulations and ongoing conversations around cannabis decontamination. Seeing the writing on the wall, forward-thinking operators are future-proofing their business and electing non-ionizing solutions for their post-harvest operations.
Ionizing vs. Non-Ionizing Radiation
The difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation goes down to the molecular level..
Ionizing radiation such as gamma, X-ray, and e-beam use high energy wavelengths to penetrate cannabis flower, simultaneously killing mold and pathogen DNA while removing electrons from the atoms and molecules of the flower. This molecular change of electrons essentially nullifies the natural integrity of the flower, eliminating the enzymatic properties of the plant that are responsible for its unique characteristics.
Non-ionizing radiation such as Radio Frequency uses longer, lower energy wavelengths to penetrate the cannabis flower. These wavelengths create an oscillating electromagnetic field around and within the flower, causing its moisture molecules to vibrate in unison with it. This rapid oscillation creates just enough thermal heat to kill mold and pathogens without harming the flower’s molecular structure or chemical or enzymatic content.
This distinction is why regulators remain concerned about cannabis flower treated with ionizing radiation. While states in the US can currently make their own determinations about cannabis decontamination requirements, bellwether countries such as Germany are making decisions on a grander scale. Regulations enacted in Germany are influencing policy regulators in the emerging EU market and having ripple effects in more established markets like Canada.
Current Regulations Against Ionizing Radiation
Germany’s medical marijuana program was launched in 2017 and its recreational program in 2023. Despite both programs being limited, the country still has to import the majority of the cannabis it sells from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Portugal, Macedonia and Malta because of domestic production caps on the three licensed cannabis producers in Germany. To help protect their consumers from imported cannabis that’s been treated with ionizing radiation, the country has implemented AMradV regulations. These rules require cultivators to obtain a license for each strain treated with ionizing radiation, costing € 5,000 and 8-10 months in processing time per registration.
Likewise, in Canada, cultivators using ionizing decontamination to clean their cannabis must label each product with the Radura, the international symbol that indicates a product has been irradiated. Recent trends show Canadian consumers starting to steer clear of cannabis labeled with the Radura because, by Canadian law, if cannabis has been treated with ionizing radiation, it cannot be considered or labeled as organic.
In the United States, cannabis regulators in Nevada have been in discussion for two years about whether or not to label cannabis products that have been treated with ionizing radiation with the Radura symbol. They’re considering the FDA’s current guidelines on labeling food treated with ionizing radiation, which requires the Radura symbol, though a final decision has yet to be made.
Since the cannabis plant remains federally illegal in the United States, cultivators currently can’t qualify as organic operations like Canadian cultivators can. But once the plant is legalized at the federal level, and if the FDA sticks with the same guidelines they currently have for food products treated with ionizing radiation, any cultivator using ionizing radiation will be ineligible for organic status and will have to label their products with the Radura symbol.
Essentially, across the globe, ionizing cannabis remediation costs the cultivator more money in labeling, licensing, and consumer satisfaction.
Other Costs of Ionizing Radiation
Ionizing cannabis remediation has other associated costs outside of regulations. For example, e-beam and gamma remediation must be done off-site, costing cultivators time and money for transportation, insurance, and administration.
X-ray equipment can be installed on-site, though it does require the installation of additional chiller equipment, adding cost and an additional layer of initial permitting and annual renewals.
Radio Frequency remediation, on the other hand, doesn’t call for any extra licensing, labeling, or facility upgrades. It can be done on-site, and the technology has already been screened by the FDA in other applications—a strong proxy for when the FDA inherits the cannabis portfolio.
Ziel Leads the Way for Radio Frequency Remediation
Ziel is the global market leader in non-ionizing radiation treatment with Radio Frequency. Our APEX 7 is easily integrated into an existing operation, requiring zero facility changes. Unlike X-ray equipment, which must be cooled, the APEX 7 can run 24/7, processing 1-6 pounds of cannabis every 14 minutes.
Cultivators who choose Ziel’s Radio Frequency remediation technology have the ability to monitor every batch treated so they can dial in specific treatment recipes for each of their strains. The APEX 7 compliance pass rate is >99%, saving cultivators an average of $1.1 million each year in lost revenue.
*CAPEX - Capital Expenditure *OPEX - Operational Expenditure
Leverage Radio Frequency in Your Operation
As countries around the world continue to dive into the cannabis industry, regulators are prioritizing cannabis remediation laws to protect their consumers. Those cultivators that choose to meet regulatory requirements via ionizing radiation are quickly learning that the associated costs aren’t worth the risk.
Radio Frequency is the safest and most cost-effective cannabis remediation option for cultivators and consumers. Contact Ziel today to learn how to incorporate the Radio Frequency solution into your SOPs, increase your yields, and future-proof your business.
Germany Set To Replace Canada as Largest Legal Cannabis Market in the World
In April 2023, after talks with EU lawmakers, Germany announced its plans for cannabis legalization. Though these plans are not as accelerated as many hoped, they pave a clear pathway for Germany to replace Canada as the largest legal cannabis market in the world within the next decade.
Included in this first round of recreational legislation are state-controlled, non-profit social clubs that can cultivate and sell cannabis to a limit of 500 members, similar to Spain’s current adult-use structure. Individuals are also allowed to grow up to three plants of their own.Germany also included plans to authorize a limited number of dispensaries in certain cities for the next five years. During that time, officials and regulators will study the impact of these shops on the country’s consumption habits and black market activity before determining the next step in nationwide cannabis legalization.
Featured in "Processing" in the Cannabis Learning Center
The Cannabis Learning Center, is a free educational platform provided by NJ Cannabis Consulting that fosters the development of the cannabis industry. Ziel has created educational videos and microbiology overviews that help users understand the risks of microbes and pathogens in cannabis, and how to safely remediate them using Radio Frequency. View our learning hub in the link below.
Why Radio Frequency is the Ideal Remediation for the Colombian Market
With 12 hours of sun year-round, Colombia is an ideal growing environment for large-scale outdoor cultivation. However, growing outdoors also creates risk - opportunities for microbial pathogens to flourish. And how do you move high volumes of flower through a remediation solution efficiently and effectively?
Ziel’s radio frequency solution with APEX efficiently solves these problems, allowing cultivators to meet microbial regulatory compliance standards for export markets. With 3X the throughput of competing technologies, you won’t experience operational bottlenecks. And APEX also has the lowest-cost remediation solution per kilogram, keeping your operating costs down.
Colombia primarily exports to the EU, which favors non-ionizing technologies. Read more about the growing Colombian market, their microbial regulations, and why Ziel’s Radio Frequency remediation is the ideal solution for cultivators seeking to export to the EU.
Why a remediation ‘kill step’ is necessary for cannabis.
New York’s Medical Cannabis Industry Association commissioned a report on recreational cannabis products sold in over 20 illicit retail stores in New York City. More than 40% of the products purchased failed for microbial contaminants and lead, representing an alarming health risk to consumers.
The Future of Cannabis Sterilization
“The Future of Cannabis Sterilization” written by Kenneth Morrow, takes a high-level look at what issues cultivators face after their harvest. Post-harvest processes have yet to be defined for the industry and choosing the correct remediation technology will ensure producers can meet state microbial regulatory compliance.