Consumer safety is an eternal concern in every legal industry. Legal marijuana is no exception. If anything, cannabis marketplace regulators have struggled to ensure products that reach consumers meet safety standards and are not tainted with potentially harmful contaminants, like pesticides and mold.
For now, cannabis users in Oregon enjoy the strictest safety standards in America—although proposed pesticide regulations in California, currently being debated and up for approval later this summer, are even stricter. Some marijuana industry figures and cannabis advocates complain that California’s proposed rules, which could cost upwards of $400 per pound of processed pot to implement, are too strict.
But judging by the ongoing situation in Oregon, where contaminated marijuana continues to elude testing and ends up in the hands (and lungs) of consumers, standards may not be strict enough.
Oregon imposed its tough standards nine months ago, after tainted marijuana reached consumers in Colorado and in Canada, where some patients complained of serious health problems after using marijuana that had traces of a banned fungicide. In Oregon, marijuana is supposed to be tested for the presence of 59 pesticides before it can be sold in a dispensary.
To see if the testing works, reporters at the Oregonian newspaper in Portland purchased some marijuana products at local dispensaries and had them tested. Three out of the 10 marijuana extracts the paper examined tested positive for pesticides during an initial test, including the common fungicide myclobutanil, the paper reported on Sunday. However, when the products were tested again, only one out of the 10 came back as contaminated, according to the newspaper.
As of now, marijuana sold in the state has to be tested by a state-licensed cannabis lab, which then determines whether the cannabis can be sold or not. So far, state health regulators have not conducted spot-checks to verify whether the lab testing is accurate, the newspaper reported.
In Colorado and Washington, marijuana is tested for potency and safety by state agricultural regulators, who do conduct random testing of marijuana batches, while also responding to complaints from consumers.
In one instance, the Oregonian’s testing found fungicide in an extract made by a company called Cura Cannabis Solutions’ Select. To make its extracts, the company buys 1,500 pounds of trim from other cultivators every week—and spends $40,000 a week on testing, its founder told the newspaper.
According to his own testing, the allegedly tainted product tested clean—and when the Oregonian retested the extracts, they also came back clean.
OK. So why did this happen? Why would test results be so unreliable?
“What you are seeing is no different from what we see all the time,” Cura Cannabis Solutions’s Nitin Khanna told the newspaper.
As for the other tainted product, butane hash oil sold under the brand name Hush, two different labs found pesticides during two rounds of testing. And one of them found five different pesticides. Asked for an explanation, that company’s owner said that the extract was made from trim acquired from five different sources last year, back when the standards weren’t as strict.
Hush said that products from the tainted batch have been pulled from the market. Meanwhile, the lab that tested the product before it was bought by the Oregonian—which declared the extract clean during testing in January—said that it stood by its results.
Here’s an unexpected wrinkle: The lab may be right.
A major problem with Oregon’s standards, the newspaper reported, is that “labs… can’t guarantee that what they test is what ends up on the shelf.”
One lab told the story of a grower who brought in a single jar of cannabis for testing—but who asked the lab to make the test cover an entire batch of marijuana that would never be scrutinized.
So this is where we’re at: Some weed comes back as dirty that may be clean, and some weed, declared clean by labs, is in fact dirty.
What’s a consumer or a regulator to do?
It also bears mentioning that there has yet to be a major incident in which tainted marijuana sickened consumers. This is good, because if that happens in a legal market, it would be a major blow to legalization efforts in other states.
Ultimately, it will be up to marijuana producers to obey the rules, abandon the use of banned chemicals, no matter how much easier pesticides make growing weed, and not blow it for the rest of us. No pressure.