According to minutes of a February 2023 meeting published by the Nevada State Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB), the cannabis testing lab Cannex Nevada (now known as LettuceTest) invoked ANAB accreditation multiple times in its defense against charges it fraudulently falsified test results.

According to cannabis industry reporting from the site Dab Connection, Cannex’s RSR Laboratories “stands accused by state regulators of passing tainted pot that should have failed, and inflating THC results for clients.” In response, the Nevada CCB is considering imposing a 10-year ban on LettuceTest, as well as massive fines for what it says amount to as much as “10,000 violations.” The meeting on February 2023 was a public hearing on the matter.

During that hearing, LettuceTest was represented by attorney Kimberly Maxson-Rushton, who repeatedly invoked the ANAB accreditation held by Cannex/LettuceTest, although incorrectly referring to it as an “ISO certification.”

Despite regulators’ allegations of fraud by Cannex dating back to 2017 or earlier, ANAB accredited the laboratory to ISO 17025, attesting to its ability to accurately perform product testing under ANAB certificate AT-2648. ANAB’s website claims its ISO 17025 accreditation “[evaluates] the laboratory’s ability to produce precise, accurate test and calibration data” and that “facilities are regularly reassessed to ensure technical expertise is maintained.”

ANAB “Ensures” the Quality of Accredited Clients

The broad claims made by ANAB about its ISO 17025 mark are in line with recent marketing decisions. Under prior leadership, ANAB was more circumspect in its marketing, being careful to avoid claims about its accreditations that could be interpreted as guarantees of quality. In recent years, ANAB has failed to fill a CEO role, and now hosts 8 separate VPs who operate without any executive oversight. A symptom of that structure has been an unrestrained marketing effort on social media which now repeatedly claims that ANAB accreditations “ensure” the competence or quality of the persons or companies under accreditation, despite the fact that such accreditations are not intended to provide such guarantees.

In a recent post on LinkedIn, ANAB claimed its ISO 17025 accreditations in the cannabis industry “establish” the competence of the labs that purchase the mark, such as Cannex / LettuceTest.

In 2019, the company wrote that ANAB “laboratory accreditation can ensure products and services deliver on their promise, build trust, and facilitate trade at national and international levels.”

The claims fly in the face of multiple cases where ANAB labs in various industries, including forensic testing, have been found to be engaged in fraudulent behavior and data falsification, despite holding the ANAB mark both before and after the scandals were revealed.

ANAB Responds by Re-Issuing LettuceTest Accreditation

In October of 2022, Oxebridge raised the issue with ANAB, asking how the accreditation body could continue to accredit a laboratory under this level of criminal allegation. ANAB filed the communication as a formal “complaint” on Oxebridge’s behalf, allowing ANAB to subsequently invoke confidentiality rules, presumably to conceal any actions taken — or not taken — by ANAB.

In February 2023, ANAB Vice President Reinaldo Figueiredo responded by defending the accreditation of Cannex / LettuceTest, saying he was “aware” of the charges and claiming to have taken “appropriate actions.”  Figueiredo provided no details, simply saying, “we consider the complaint closed.”

However, Figueiredo failed to mention that a month earlier, in January 2023, ANAB had re-issued its ISO 17025 accreditation to the LettuceTest, while the “complaint” was supposedly being processed, and while the media was giving coverage to the scandals.

Re-issued ANAB accreditation certificate for LettuceTest, showing date at bottom right.

The move gives the impression that ANAB is working alongside its client to intentionally de-rail Nevada state regulators’ case against LettuceTest.

LettuceTest Invokes ANAB in its Defense

Whether Cannex / LettuceTest attorneys colluded with ANAB is not clear, but during the February hearing, LettuceTest attorney Rushton leaned heavily on ANAB’s accreditation as a key part of its defense. According to the meeting minutes:

Ms. Rushton stated she could easily resolve the case and propose where the case should land and best course of action going forward. Regulators want to see compliance and a licensee that understands the obligation and commitment to become compliant. Ms. Rushton added that the recent ANAV [sic] review from this past October was important. Mr. Rath objected. Chair Douglas sustained the objection. Chair Douglas noted that as cited in the list of alleged deficiencies, what is before the Board is what was going on in the facility on the date in question; the Board is looking at that point of time. Ms. Rushton continued to explain the lab’s requirement to be ISO certified.

The reference to “ANAV” instead of “ANAB” was likely the result of the transcriptionist mishearing the accreditation body’s name.

The quote above appears to suggest that ANAB performed some type of assessment in October, likely the one that resulted in the January 2023 re-issuance of accreditation.

In response to charges that Cannex / LettuceTest suffered from a “failure to ensure quality standards of practice and supervision of staff,” attorney Rushton again summoned ANAB’s accreditation to the lab’s defense:

Ms. Rushton disputed the objective determination that lab staff had not been properly trained and supervised when the inspection occurred in December 2019. Ms. Rushton added that there was ISO certifications from 2019 in the materials. Mr. Rath objected as those documents are not in the record. Ms. Rushton stated they were. Chair Douglas directed Ms. Rushton to move on. Ms. Rushton explained the ISO certification requirements related to training and supervision.

Later in the hearing, attorney Rushton appeared to argue that ANAB’s accreditation was superior to actual state regulations, an odd claim given that ISO 17025  is a generic international standard, not written to comply with any particular law or statute, and not even specific to the United States, much less the State of Nevada:

Ms. Rushton argued the importance of regulations to give guidance. When you list a significant number or handful of treatises and don’t identify what parts you want the lab to follow, how do they know. Labs look to the ISO certifications.

At one point, attorney Rushton even argued that the Nevada CCB should have filed a complaint with ANAB, rather than invoke its own powers as a state regulatory body:

Ms. Rushton stated she relied on the ISO certification because it is objective; the ANAV [sic] certification is objection. Chair Douglas asked for the date of the certification. Ms. Rushton responded that there was one from 2019 during the applicable time of the inspection. Ms. Rushton added that there was a latter one in October 2022. Mr. Rath objected to counsel testifying to the CCB filing a complaint with the accrediting agency; that did not happen. Ms. Rushton disagreed.

Had CCB done so, ANAB would have also invoked its “confidentiality” rules, keeping the entire matter hidden from the public.

Nevada State AG Responds

During a lengthy closing argument, Senior Deputy Attorney General L. Kristopher Rath argued for the application of strict punishment for Cannex / LettuceTest, repeatedly making the case that the lab engaged in criminal fraud. One of the allegations relates to how Cannex performed multiple “re-tests” to get a passing result in order to placate their client, regardless of whether this resulted in the release of deadly products. Rath called this “improper and illegal.

Mr. Rath stated the fourth issue under the hearing officer’s findings was the respondent’s failure to maintain records of laboratory testing information; this is the post-it note issue. Mr. Rath stated the post-it notes were used to instruct staff to conduct retests and then discarded and not kept in the lab files as required by Nevada law. The hearing officer found these records constituted technical records which had to be retained. Mr. Rath stated the respondent did not want to retain them because their retesting was improper and illegal.

Rath went on to say that “the public needs to be able to trust test results; retesting until you get the results your clients want can be dishonest and dangerous.” He then recommended that Cannex / LettuceTest be hit with “10,000” violations:

Member Durrett asked why the CCB wanted 10,000 violations imposed; if $2,500 was imposed, it would be $30,000,000. Mr. Rath replied that the Board had the discretion and could impose $1.00 fine. Member Durrett asked what was the public interest in imposing 10,000 violations. Mr. Rath responded that if you don’t do that, they will keep making the mistake and know there is only one violation at the end of the day.

The tone of the meeting suggests things did not go well for Cannex / LettuceTest, and a 10-year ban and huge fines are likely. If so, this will then raise questions as to the ability of ANAB accreditations to actually “ensure” or “establish” the competency of its laboratory clients.

The move also reinforces an idea put forth by Oxebridge that the ISO accreditation industry now operates more like a “protection racket” rather than a means of verifying the quality of products or services, whereby the accreditation bodies provide legal cover to clients who buy their services, even in cases of criminal activity.

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Why we report on these topics

Since 2000, Oxebridge has worked to improve ISO and related certification schemes by identifying problems and then proposing solutions. We report on issues affecting standards users because so few other news outlets do. Our belief is that in order to fix the problems in these schemes, we must first understand the nature and breadth of those problems. Our reporting aims to do just that. Elsewhere on the Oxebridge site you will find White Papers and other articles proposing ideas to correct these problems.