Oregon Marijuana: Safety First!

Beginning January 1, anyone who likes their marijuana dusted with a bit of malathion, myclobutanil, imidacloprid or even propiconazole, should head straight for Oregon’s illegal cannabis market. Last week, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) released concentration standards for those and 55 other pesticides and solvents. To view the list of regulated chemicals, which OHA assembled with the state Department of Agriculture (ODA), go here. The temporary testing rules, beginning at OAR 333-007-3000, are here.

Pesticides and pot in Oregon. It's going to change. A lot.
Pesticides and pot in Oregon. It’s going to change. A lot.

For anyone following the rollout of Oregon’s recreational pot regime, clean product has been top of mind for a while now, especially after last summer’s powerful exposé in the Oregonian. That newspaper’s stealth investigation found fourteen chemicals in a set of randomly sampled strains, six of which the federal government classifies as having possible or probable links to cancer. The new standards are a significant step in consumer safety as relates to marijuana consumption in Oregon, and should help legitimize the industry. The standards apply to all recreational program producers and also to non-exempt Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) growers (meaning, the ones who sell through to dispensaries).

Even prior to last summer’s exposé, OHA had required testing for broad categories of pesticides. However, unlicensed labs chose which pesticides to screen and test, and results were largely unreliable. This exasperated many of our OMMP clients, including growers, processors and dispensaries, who rightly argued that the testing regime was a sham. Indeed, at least one lab is on record admitting that it stopped testing for a common pesticide, because failed samples were bad for business.

We have written before about pot safety lawsuits, both before and after the first one landed in Colorado district court a few months back. (That case concerns a large producer’s use of a petroleum-based fungicide, Eagle 20.) In an attempt to prevent this sort of thing, the new OHA rules not only enumerate a list of regulated pesticides and solvents, but they take a comprehensive approach to accrediting labs, regulating sample collection and sanctioning offenders.

Under the new regime, each “batch” of usable marijuana, and each “process lot” of cannabinoid concentrate or extract, must be sampled, tested and tracked prior to hitting dispensary shelves. Laboratory personnel, not growers or processors, will pull samples. Cannabis that tests above program limits for pesticides or solvents (or microbiological contaminants, or water concentration) must be destroyed. Producers who pass all checks during a 12-month period can waive out of regular testing, but will still be subject to random screens.

It is believed that under this system, Oregon marijuana will likely undergo stricter quality checks than any other agricultural product in the state. Because of the expanded net of regulated chemicals, however, and the frequency of testing required, OMMP growers and recreational producers alike can safely assume that testing costs will increase, and perhaps even double. At the state level, OHA will need to work to ensure that enough accredited labs exist to meet what will surely be a spike in demand. We should expect Oregon retail cannabis prices to increase.

For now, OMMP growers and recreational program applicants should watch for ODA guidance on the new concentration standards. That document should issue sometime before January 1, when the rules go into effect. As always, we will continue to post on developments as they unfold here in Oregon.