SALEM, Ore. — As Oregon officials struggle to license all sectors of the recreational marijuana industry before the end of the year, a top official of the agency that accredits labs that test pot says it is overwhelmed — a situation that could derail the rollout.
Gary K. Ward, administrator of the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, emailed dozens of labs awaiting licenses, saying his agency’s abilities to accredit them is “on the precipice of collapse … because of the lack of resources and the last minute rush of cannabis labs with applications.”
He said in his Aug. 26 email that he had asked for three full-time employees to handle cannabis testing lab accreditation, and received none.
Only three labs have been accredited to test cannabis by Ward’s agency, known as ORELAP.
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If labs aren’t accredited, then marijuana growers and extractors won’t be able to have products tested to be put on the market — which Oregon voters legalized in a November 2014 ballot measure — and retailers will have bare shelves. Many retailers are also awaiting licenses from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
“This has been extremely worrisome for the industry,” Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “I have spoken with people in all agencies … and we’ve warned them for months this bottleneck was coming because of their inability get these accreditations done.”
The Oregon Department of Revenue reported that as of July 31, it has processed $25.5 million in marijuana tax payments this year. New rules require testing by an accredited lab.
“The tax revenue will go from that to zero if we have no product to sell,” Morse said.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are selling to both patients and so-called recreational users, but after the end of this year they won’t be allowed to sell to recreational users. Retail shops will sell to them, but only products that have been tested by accredited labs for pesticides and other impurities, and for potency. Medical marijuana is required to be tested but the labs previously did not need to be accredited.
Jeremy Sackett, co-founder of Cascadia Labs, said he is awaiting accreditation and that an inspection by ORELAP is scheduled for next week. The company has one lab in the Portland area and another in Bend.
“It would be unfortunate if the State were not able to support and effectively implement the well-developed regulations that have been enacted,” Sackett told AP in an email.
The Oregon Health Authority, which oversees ORELAP, said Tuesday in response to Ward’s warning that it is committed to taking steps to ensure environmental laboratory accreditation “even with growing demand.”
“Labs play a critical role in ensuring public health and OHA will find a solution to the challenges that the short-term increase in cannabis testing lab requests has caused,” the health authority said.
Morse said Ward’s “cry for help is a smart thing to do, because no one has been listening. He added that he hopes Gov. Kate Brown’s office will step in and ensure the health authority gives sufficient resources to Ward’s agency.
ORELAP also must accredit labs that test drinking water and other environmental substances. Lead has been discovered in drinking water in several schools in Oregon recently.
In his email, Ward also said a last-minute rush of cannabis lab applications, plus their difficulties in meeting new requirements, have contributed to his agency being overwhelmed.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at @andrewselsky