Ensuring Safety of Marijuana Products in Oregon

Ensuring Safety of Marijuana Products in Oregon

By Zachary Babin - December 14, 2015

Associated Press Earlier this year, Noelle Crombie of The Oregonian/OregonLive found that lab-tested medical marijuana for sale on dispensary shelves was tainted with pesticides at higher than allowable concentrations, posing unknown but potentially elevated risk to users. And now the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the medical marijuana program, correctly moves ahead with vastly expanded regulations that will, in June of next year, ensure verifiable testing for nearly 60 pesticides. Oregon will at that time have the most stringent program in the U.S. ensuring product safety.

The problem is the in-between time. That’s why the suggestion of a Portland scientist and entrepreneur to close the gap on pesticide testing deserves full consideration by a panel advising the OHA on its regulations.

Crombie reported this week that Mowgli Holmes, a panel member who co-founded a Portland-based company performing genetic research on cannabis, suggested to his colleagues that the deficient pesticide testing practices now in place in Oregon be tossed in favor of testing for up to a dozen commonly used pesticides. In an interview with The Oregonian’s editorial board, Holmes called the dozen the known “bad actors” among pesticides but noted a dual challenge: Growers of medical marijuana would be pushed to “wean themselves” quickly from their longstanding practices of pesticide use, and the Oregon Health Authority presently lacks direct enforcement authority over laboratories to ensure reliable testing results.

Nobody knows precisely how much exposure to a chemical constituent of a pesticide is needed before a bad health outcome presents itself. But it stands to reason that estimated ranges of safe use be honored, even during an interim period — this to signal to Oregon’s 70,000-plus medical marijuana users that every effort is being made to ensure off-the-shelf products that not only alleviate health conditions but avoid creating them.

A way around the temporary enforcement problem could be that the OHA, in its oversight of the grower-to-dispensary transaction, condition its approvals on prescribed testing. It wouldn’t be air-tight. But it would be a speedy improvement. As Holmes noted, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Can we do something creative and easy?”

Nothing in the weed business is, particularly. That’s especially true for large government bureaucracies for whom seven months is the blink of an eye but during which time a medical marijuana user could consume a lot of tainted product. The OHA has this year been nothing if not ambitious in setting standards for the production and sale of medical marijuana. But it will need to be downright adroit in quickly closing the gap between current testing failures and helping to ensure the reasonable expectation of product safety before June arrives.

As the state presses ahead in configuring its rules for medical marijuana dispensaries, grow sites and product labeling, it would be utterly appropriate for it to build a temporary bridge from now to then that helps keep folks safe.

Associated Press