(AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file)

Colorado patients urge lawmakers to start medical marijuana testing

A Colorado proposal to require safety testing for medical marijuana, same as recreational pot, won unanimous approval Wednesday on its first test in the state Legislature.

But patients and consumer advocates complain that the industry is being given too much time to screen for pesticides and contaminants such as mold and mildew. They told lawmakers that the results of the tests should be made public, something the bill doesn’t require.

“I’m actually scared now as a medical marijuana patient,” said Louisa Bolivar, head of the Cannabis Consumers’ Coalition.

The head-scratching situation of Colorado requiring testing of recreational pot but not medical pot is a holdover from older regulations. When the medical regulations were written in 2010, Colorado had very few testing facilities.

“There has been a shortage of licensed and certified testing facilities, a huge financial cost, and inaccurate test results,” Mike Elliott of the Marijuana Industry Group said in an email.

The bill approved Wednesday requires medical pot sold in dispensaries to be tested by July of 2016. The requirement would take effect only if a separate bill to set statewide testing protocols and standards becomes law.

Patients told the committee they’re frustrated by delays getting tests.

“We do it every day for every other food that we have,” said Greg Duran of the Cannabis Patients Alliance. “Stop the delays. Stop the excuses.”

The bill comes a month after marijuana regulators in the city of Denver ordered several commercial pot growers to quarantine hundreds of plants because of possible pesticide violations. The plants were in some cases treated with pesticides not cleared for human consumption.

Patients testified that the problem could be much broader. Robert Lopez, a patient in Denver, testified of his alarm after seeing reports that pesticides for garden shrubs had been found in marijuana-growing facilities on products destined for human consumption.

“It can cause birth defects and all this crazy stuff,” Lopez said.

But pot regulators insisted the laboratory industry still isn’t ready. For example, the state has only 19 licensed marijuana testing labs, only three of them cleared to perform testing for microbial contaminants.

Officials insisted that despite requests, that it isn’t possible to make testing data public.

“A lot of times that information is proprietary in nature,” said Lewis Koski, head of the state Marijuana Enforcement Division.

The bill faces one more committee before being considered by the full Senate.

A nonpartisan analysis performed by legislative staff predicted that 20 more labs would open across the state by 2017 if the testing requirement becomes law.

Online: Senate Bill 260

This story was first published on DenverPost.com