Ryan Treacy, founder and CEO of C4 Laboratories, knows there’s a problem in the cannabis industry when it comes to bridging cultivation, cannabis product production and science. He also knows there are solutions. But before fixes and compromises can be made between companies like his and the cannabis manufacturers and producers in the world, he believes a trusting partnership must be formed. Without that, Treacy argues, the industry may stumble and, instead of landing in a ditch, may fall off a cliff. “We don’t intend to create undo concern,” he notes. “But we do want to protect our consumers and our industry.”
Treacy’s Arizona-based company, founded in 2014, is a research and testing facility working to ensure the safety and potency of cannabis. “We want to be the guiding hand,” he asserts. “The guiding light of science.” Treacy, who worked in corporate America for 15 years, hopes his organizational and management skills can translate to the burgeoning cannabis industry. “Cannabis changed my life,” he declares. “After a bad car accident left me with a severely injured left leg, cannabis allowed me to holistically take care of my pain.”
While Treacy has no problem with recreational cannabis, in founding C4 he hopes to mend the gap between the manufacturing and scientific sides of the industry so that the plant can be grown, honed and protected specifically for medicinal purposes. “It gives me goose bumps to know we can play a role in that,” he reveals. But there’s been opposition, he tells me, which may come as no surprise, stating, “We’re going to have growing pains.” As legal cannabis is still in its infancy, producers are receiving mixed results from labs—some of whom, Treacy says, may not be as above board as C4.
And other issues exist. For example, if Farmer A takes over Farm B and grows plants via proper measures, they still may, when tested, encounter problems; prior growers on that site may not have been compliant with their pesticides or growing methods, allowing for residual contamination from previous cultivators. As a result, the new farmer may lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given this possibility, Treacy says, it makes sense why producers wouldn’t want testing to be done on their crop without reasonable considerations as to what may be causing the issues. Who would want to face such losses? But, he adds, if the industry doesn’t take a hard looks at itself, problems may pile up and the whole shebang could be at risk.
C4, Treacy posits, is a means to better ends. “Cultivators have to know how they can continue to refine their craft while still meeting all the different compliance requirements of each state. Until we mend that gap, I think we’re stunting our ability to meet our full potential as an industry.” Another reason these problems exist, Treacy maintains, is because there are no universal (read: federal) standards for cannabis production, no universal limits for microbial elements, pesticides or potency levels in the plants. And, in his home state of Arizona, Treacy says, there are so few regulations for cannabis license holders that cultivators and producers are left to the “honor system.”
Given that the cannabis industry is still in its infancy, producers are loath to add new hurdles to their workload. “There are pitfalls galore that cultivators and product producers face that quite often have significant financial impact,” Treacy acknowledges. “So, obviously, it’s not going to be very popular with them. So far the reaction has been pretty poor.” But, he wonders, “Should we not test? Of course we should!” If, say, a well-intentioned farm encounters problems due to, say, a former tenant and the new producers can “show and prove and provide data that poor cultivation practices are no longer being used, we do need to take that into consideration and allow people to have plans in place as opposed to cut their Achilles’ Heal. That’s being collaborative and flexible, which is what’s realistic.”
Despite the myriad hang-ups, C4 Laboratories has begun to make headway. “After really holding on by a chin hair,” Treacy recalls, “reputable operators are coming around and are now our clients because they trust us. They can rely on our data and start making changes, optimizing their process and allowing the data and science to guide them. We’ve developed consumer confidence, and that happened because we stayed true to understanding our role.”
Many in the cannabis industry maintain resistance to C4’s science-based tests for toxins or contaminants that could, the CEO recognizes, hurt those whose immune systems are weakest. While most of the cannabis products on the market are safe, Treacy notes, the industry shouldn’t ignore the real risks contamination poses to consumers. About 95 out of 100 (more like 99 out of 100) people that consume cannabis, he explains, have a strong enough immune system that normal and moderate microbial activity in their cannabis would not affect them—microbes exist everywhere in our day-to-day life, from our cell phones to the food we eat and just about everything we touch. But there are immune-compromised folks (like chemotherapy and HIV patients) who may suffer without mandated testing across the board. “There’s a rush to the trough of innovation,” Treacy says. “People want the newest product, the most innovative, most popular, best flavoring—and that’s well and good. But if we don’t consider everything about the plant and the means of production, we’re potentially providing unsafe products.”
And if even one unsafe product is consumed, it could submarine the whole industry, Treacy warns. “Every state has some type of challenge when it comes to testing regulations and its methodology,” he affirms. “But we’re here to help. We want to ensure the best products hit the market for years and years to come.”