Cannabis Recall Analysis

Last Update: April 23, 2024

One day, I decided I wanted to understand the overall ‘health’ of a cannabis marketplace by looking at their recall information. When one thinks about food recalls there are centralized sites of information like the FDA’s page. Manufacturer recalls often occur (I’m thinking of things like the most recent one regarding Nissan vehicles). That lead me to thinking about what mechanisms are in place for cannabis recalls – and how I could leverage those to look at data across the states.

I found that the problem was even more basic. In some states, even having the information available requires public records requests. In others, they are freely available on websites. Still others seem to keep them mysterious and behind closed doors. I realized that if I couldn’t find information about cannabis recalls — how were other consumers getting their information? What about canna-tourists?

Recalls are an important mechanism that protect consumers from a variety of issues that may arise (and not all of them nefarious!). Just like everything else in cannabis, how they happen varies from state to state.

I’ve been making this visual guide to help those seeking to understand recalls and recall patterns to explore the recall information that is available. This work has been cited and used by many, and I hope that it will continue to be built upon over time. If you would like more information about methods, etc. please reach out to me at jamietoth@protonmail.com . If you wish to use this data or visualizations in your own work, cite me as a source.

I’ll be collecting and adding recall information to my recall database and will be updating these Tableau visualizations with all the latest recall information about once a quarter. If you think I’ve missed some — send me an email and I’ll get right on it!

The Current State of Cannabis Recall Information

Just like everything in cannabis, recalls vary from state to state. This includes everything from how recalls happen to how cannabis recall information is (or is not) given to consumers. For instance, most of the data captured in Colorado indicates that recalls are mandatory and initiated by state investigations, while in Washington most of the recalls are voluntary. Unfortunately, this puts consumers in a bind, as it can be difficult to even find where recall information could be.

State-by-State Analysis of Cannabis Recall Information Availability

The first thing I needed to understand was which states had an easy mechanism to alert consumers of recalls and which didn’t. I call a mechanism ‘easy’ if it’s relatively easy to discern where to go on the website, and I consider one to be ‘complete’ if it has information on all of the recalls in the state. The map of this particular regulation is extremely straightforward.

My theory was that states are more dedicated to consumer protection when they have easy to access recall information, but it’s troubling to see so many who still do not have easy to access recall information.

Almost more importantly, though, is the completeness of the information available. Below are the links to each of the states that have recall information available on their webpage (to be updated as more states realize the importance of this practice).

States with Centralized Recall Data

Here are all the states with information available online, ranked from the states with the most cannabis recall information available to those who haven’t had a recall to record yet.

To get a brief look of how many recalls have been performed per state, this graphic is a good place to start.

Total Recalls by State. Recall Information by State

Alaska

Alaska has a centralized webpage for information about their program, but it’s not exactly easy to navigate or figure out where the recall information is.

Arizona

Looking for Arizona recalls isn’t too tough, but they are intermingled with other announcements.

California

California has stepped up its game since I first wrote about this issue a year ago. Their recall site gives clear information on products and reasons for recall. A big way that the state could improve on it is to include information on every recall that happened (there’s no information, for instance, on the first ever recall in 2018).

Colorado

Colorado’s cannabis recalls, or ‘Health and Safety Advisories’ list is a data girl’s dream. I’ll still go through a reconciliation process to make sure that all the recalls that have been written about are represented, but Colorado has an extensive ‘data lake’ of information regarding their recalls that includes a document with information about each recall.

It also seems that they use their Department of Agriculture’s lab as a reference lab, which has helped them catch a lot of issues through their processes. So even though they have high numbers, it’s because they’re catching a lot of issues. Colorado’s approach is exemplary!

Michigan

Michigan is also pleasing to my data brain! All of the data is available for each recall under ‘Public Health and Safety Advisory Bulletins.’ Each leads to a document about the recall. Another well done website!

Mississippi
Mississippi’s recall site includes information on recalls in addition to the product’s COA which is exemplary work!

Missouri

Missouri also has a centralized webpage for their cannabis recall information, and a space for archived recalls (when they happen). There’s a recall listed there from 2023.

Montana

Montana has a great looking website that is ready to go, but there are no recalls listed yet. I hope they aren’t missing anything.

Nevada

Nevada has cannabis recalls under ‘Public Health and Safety Advisories’ on the Cannabis Compliance Board’s Website. They have bulletins with necessary information for consumers, and have a history of that information available.

New Jersey

New Jersey has a section on their website dedicated for recalls, but there are no recalls listed. There are also no historical recalls listed, as one involving Curaleaf, GTI, and mold didn’t make the list. It’s great they have a place for all of this important information — but I’d love to see them go the extra mile to include the historical information as well (and I’d feel more assured their information was correct).

New Mexico

New Mexico has a recall information under press releases (which moved from a prior location). This recall from March of 2022 seems recent enough for inclusion, but it’s not listed. It would be a fantastic recall page / resource if it included all of the history!

New York

New York has created a centralized repository for their recall information, but there are no recalls yet posted. The page describes the two pathways for recalls, and I’m excited to see how this reporting method develops for the troubled state.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s website includes cannabis recall information under ‘Current Embargoes and Recalls.’ Each recall links to a list of all the recalled products that includes why.

Oregon

Oregon’s cannabis recall information is displayed in a table with a link to documents with information and often images of products recalled. It includes the information available at the time of recall, and includes information on recalls back to 2017.

Pennsylvania

There are recalls listed but they are so hard to find, it was really troubling for me to give them credit. I’d love to see this information more front and center and easier for consumers to access.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island does list recalls in a centralized place, and while they are mixed among ‘Announcements and Alerts’ they are still pretty easy to find.

Washington

Washington’s ‘Notice of Recalls’ page includes a history of recalls. Each recall has a brief about it including the date, reason and type. I would love to see more information included for each recall, but it’s great to see information on the historical recalls!

Recall Data Availability

It’s a shame that every state doesn’t have a centralized repository of recall information. But what shocked me is the lengths some states will go to keep a recall secret.

In one terrible instance, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation was made aware by dispensaries and consumers that a strain of cannabis had mold in it. Instead of announcing a recall, the department quietly emailed dispensaries to ask that the product be quarantined.

Keeping recalls publicly quiet while admonishing consumers ‘Caveat Emptor’ is bad faith at best and negligent at worst.

Why is Recall Data Important?

One of the most important reasons for pushing for publicly available recall data is to protect consumers, and to be able to examine it for overall trends and other important information.

Understanding which states track issues more effectively, and what sorts of issues their policies are able to uncover is an important part of policy analysis.

More importantly, it supports consumers in understanding the issues in their local market so that they can proceed with caution. It’s hard to win public trust when information that is vital to public health decisions isn’t made available.

But it also helps regulators are others to understand overall patterns and trends. Without available recall data, even understanding what metrics should be used for recalls (recalled product per batch? Per Pound? Per SKU? Who knows!), much less a ‘healthy’ rate of recalls in a market will be nearly impossible.

Is this good? Bad? Who knows! Recall Information by Year.

What Did I Learn From Reading All of These Recalls?

Pesticides were the most frequent issue cited in recalls.

By far, pesticides were the most frequent issue cited in recalls. It made me wonder how many pesticides weren’t being caught because they aren’t part of regulation. But, Aspergillus is gaining. Mainly this has to do with the recent implementation of Aspergillus testing in states.

Pie Chart of Recalls by Type, From Tableau.
Pie Chart of Recalls by Type, From Tableau.

Recall Regulations Can Take a While to Set Up

For instance, Florida adopted rules on 3/10/2022 requiring the Department of Health to adopt potency variation rules and allow MM treatment centers to recall cannabis products that don’t meet potency and safety requirements. Cannabis had already been on sale for several years by then. California has recently stepped up efforts to identify THC potency inflation, as well as looking for other recall issues.

Some States Require Public Records Requests to Learn About Cannabis Recalls

I’m glad to see that New York has changed their approach around – to even learn about product recalls in New York state, the state has to have public records requests made! That’s how two recalls (one, two) involving Curaleaf were discovered — NY Cannabis Insider had to request the records. You know the old story about a tree falling in a forest? Is a recall really a recall if none of the consumers are aware?

Some Recalls Make for Interesting Reads

For instance, here’s one about saliva contamination. So, here’s a tip pre-roll manufacturers: don’t lick your product! No matter how authentic you think it’ll make it! It’s especially disturbing because it happened in August of 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing. Yikes.

Conclusion

It’s obvious from looking at the data that recalls help protect consumers from a wide array of issues with cannabis, most particularly pesticides. While some states are embracing the digital tools at their disposal to alert consumers to particular recalls (and hopefully, eventually, overall trends), most states haven’t rolled out recall websites and many may lack the appropriate rules and regulations to create a sensible recall plan for their state’s needs. Recalls are a vital piece of the cannabis consumer safety puzzle, and offer protection as well as insight.

Further Reading:

Tableau Visualizations.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9472674


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One response to “Cannabis Recall Analysis”

  1. […] of manipulated results, regulators closed multiple labs. NV did something similar. Some states recall contaminated products. Disincentives to dishonesty need to be a part of the decision-making process […]