As cannabis (and medical cannabis) legalization moves further into the American mainstream, states coming online are looking to established protocols and best practices in the industry after which to model new regulations. As I speak with cannabis colleagues across the country, one question I hear repeatedly is, “What is Oregon doing with lab testing?” The Oregon Marijuana Business Conference (OMBC), in addition to updating attendees on all things related to the industry, is hosting a very timely “Oregon Testing Update” presentation this Friday, April 28th, to provide the latest on Oregon’s testing law, as the state is taking public comment until the 30th on new proposed rules.
Indeed, it appears the Beaver State has garnered a national reputation with our aggressive standards and approach to consumer safety. By comparison, California currently has no established state-regulated medical testing program, leaving little doubt that giant swaths of cannabis producers in that state would fail to meet Oregon’s standards. One recent study found 93% of cannabis samples in southern California failed lab tests for pesticides. However, by 2018, California will be required to have testing standards in place. California regulators are surely keeping a sharp eye on the evolution of Oregon’s laws.
In balancing consumer safety, with the needs of the burgeoning cannabis industry, Oregon is still trying to figure out what makes most sense in setting its own marijuana testing policy, and no political change is without controversy. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) recently suggested a significant overhaul in cannabis testing rules in an attempt to address problems with the current set of procedures.
On the one hand, legislators are tasked with protecting public health and ensuring reasonable quality control. On the other hand, lawmakers must also be cautious of creating unreasonable burdens to businesses navigating the new terrain of a legal cannabis industry. Stakeholders on all sides of the issue are clamoring over the proposed changes.
One of the reasons compelling changes in testing rules has been industry reports of slow turnaround in laboratory testing, which has been particularly problematic for edibles. Some labs have faced a backlog of products to be tested, especially when lab regulations initially went into effect last October, which means foods, concentrates and flowers must sit on a shelf awaiting approval, sometimes for weeks. Obviously this was devastating for producers of foods that can expire in the short-term. But over the past few weeks, labs have adjusted to market demand, and the backlog appears to be much less of an issue, somewhat lessening the urgency to force the nascent industry into another set of regulatory changes. Still, it is clear that Oregon hasn’t quite figured out yet the right formula for balancing the needs of consumers and producers.
According to Keith Mansur of the Oregon Cannabis Connection, the OHA currently requires one-third of product be tested for contaminants, costing roughly $350-$400 a pop. While the OHA is reporting a failure rate of 26% for cannabis concentrate samples, some labs suggest the failure rate is somewhere between 50% and 70%. Suggested changes would lower the amount required to be tested to 20%, which is still substantially more than what is required for other agricultural food products.
Of course basing policy on food standards has its problems as well. Many pesticides which are safe for food consumption are unsafe when burned. One of those substances is a fungicide called Myclobutanil, sometimes sold as a product called “Eagle”, which is often applied to grapes and hops. It’s considered harmless to eat, but when it’s burned it produces hydrogen cyanide, which is extremely toxic to humans. A recent test of random medical cannabis samples from dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay area of California found one sample to have more than thirteen times the amount of Myclobutanil than would be allowed under Oregon law. But since no pesticide limits exist for Californians, rogue operators continue to poison both land and people without regard to public safety. What transpires in Oregon’s testing regulations in the coming months is likely to affect millions of people both inside and outside of the state.
With the OHA taking public comments on the proposed lab testing rule changes until the end of April, it is a perfect time to attend the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference in Eugene on April 28th. Laboratory testing is one of the primary topics to be covered this Thursday, and the crowd will be teeming with interested and knowledgeable parties from across the cannabis spectrum. The event is coming right up, so don’t wait to get your tickets! Come be part of the conversation and learn more about Oregon’s role in developing national pesticide testing standards! And, if you are free, you’ll want to party with Henry Rollins at the VIP party on Thursday, the 27th.