Is Your Pot Safe? Don’t Be So Sure

The cannabis industry must avoid giving fodder for a book like this.
The cannabis industry must avoid giving fodder for a book like this.

Noelle Crombie of the Oregonian blows the lid off Oregon’s lack of any real testing or standards for its medical marijuana products. In her series, “A Tainted High,” Ms. Crombie calls into question the safety of cannabis in Oregon. This is the kind of story that will lead to major realizations and to significant changes and I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone in the industry to read her article.

A lack of quality testing is not necessarily the most shocking part of Ms. Crombie’s series, as several states still do not require such testing. Rather, it’s that so many commercial medical marijuana manufacturers in Oregon are endangering consumers by using large quantities of unsafe pesticides and other chemicals on and in their products. We have for a while now preached to the marijuana community that products liability will eventually affect it, and this series just emphasizes how shoddy safety practices are putting people at great risk of getting sick or worse. 

To put it bluntly, if the cannabis industry (and not just in Oregon) does not clean up its act when it comes to consumer safety, we can likely expect three things to happen:

  • The government (most likely the State of Oregon) will come in and force a clean-up.
  • There will be a backlash against legalization.
  • Legal cannabis sales will stall or decline.

Ms. Crombie reports the following disturbing facts:

Ten marijuana concentrates, popular extracts made from the plant’s leaves and flowers, were screened. Pesticides were found in nearly all of them. Many of the pesticides detected aren’t regulated under Oregon’s medical marijuana rules, which means that products that contain these chemicals can still be sold.

A total of 14 chemicals were found in eight of the samples, including a half-dozen that the federal government has classified as having possible or probable links to cancer.

Among them: a common household roach killer and another whose health risks prompted the federal government to eliminate it for most residential uses more than a decade ago. Though many growers say they follow organic practices, only one of the pesticides detected in the analysis is approved for use in organic agriculture.

The above means that qualifying medical patients are consuming pesticide-laced cannabis, even in many instances after having been assured by producers, manufacturers, testing companies, and retailers that their products are “organic” or fit for consumption. Ms. Crombie also indicts “[a] combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has enabled pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market.”

The lack of state mandated testing standards for pesticides and other chemicals is not unique to Oregon, as the following state rundown shows:

California. California has no mandatory quality assurance testing and no mandatory testing for pesticides under its Compassionate Use Act or under any corresponding state regulations.

Colorado. Recreational cannabis must be tested for pesticides, but medical marijuana products do not have the same requirement. SB 260 would mandate pesticide testing for MMJ, but that bill is still awaiting Governor Hickenlooper’s signature — though he is expected to sign it into law. SB 260 requires mandatory testing of MMJ, including for pesticides, but it will not go into effect until July 1, 2016.

Nevada. Nevada requires medical marijuana establishments and independent testing labs abide by its pesticide screening policy.

Florida. Pesticide testing is nowhere even mentioned in either Florida’s Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 or in its accompanying administrative regulations.

Illinois.  Illinois’s medical cannabis administrative rules on laboratory testing mandate that: “Immediately prior to manufacturing or natural processing of any cannabis or cannabis-infused product or packaging cannabis for sale to a dispensary, each batch shall be made available at the cultivation center for an employee of an approved laboratory to select a random sample, which shall be tested by the approved laboratory for . . . pesticide active ingredients . . .”

Minnesota. Minnesota selected two labs to test all of its marijuana and, under its permanent manufacturer rules, those labs must accurately test for “pesticide residue” in all products.

New York. New York’s medical marijuana rules require”[t]esting for contaminants in the final medical marihuana product shall include but shall not be limited to those analytes listed below [including] . . . any pesticide/herbicide/fungicide used during production of the medical marihuana product.”

Washington.  Though Washington requires quality assurance testing, it makes testing for pesticides optional. According to WAC 314-55-102(8), “[t]he general body of required quality assurance tests for marijuana flowers and infused products may [but not must] include moisture content, potency analysis, foreign matter inspection, microbiological screening, pesticide and other chemical residue and metals screening, and residual solvents levels.” Washington producers and processors can only use pesticides approved by the state and any product that uses a pesticide must include a statement setting forth exactly what pesticides were used on it. As for Washington’s new MMJ program (which goes into full effect on July 1, 2016), SB 5052 dictates that “medical specific regulations [should] be adopted as needed and under consultation of the departments of health and agriculture so that safe handling practices will be adopted and so that testing standards for medical products meet or exceed those standards in use in the recreational market.”

Alaska. Alaska’s recreational ballot measure doesn’t set forth any specific testing requirements yet, but it does mandate that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board create rules surrounding the “[h]ealth and safety regulations and standards for the manufacture of marijuana products and the cultivation of marijuana.” So, we’ll have to see what Alaska does for particular testing standards in the future. Concerning medical cannabis, under Alaska’s Medical Uses of Marijuana for Persons Suffering from Debilitating Medical Conditions Act, there’s no mention of quality assurance testing at all.

Could a marijuana product containing high levels of dangerous pesticides and chemicals be considered a dangerous or defective product? Absolutely. Could a cannabis producer, processor, or retailer be sued for its involvement with a pesticide-laced cannabis product? Absolutely. See Marijuana Retailers: Be Mindful of Products Liability and Inaccurate Marijuana Testing Will Lead To Lawsuits.

Bottom Line. If you want to avoid being sued or having your name show up in an article for unsafe cannabis product, you have no real choice but to clean up your act. This is true regardless of the state in which you conduct business.