SAN JOSE — Within months of opening Oregon’s legal marijuana market, problems in state-mandated testing almost brought sales to a standstill.
To prevent a similar problem in California, industry experts at last week’s public hearing in San Jose urged reforms to draft regulations by the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.
They urged the creation of “pre-testing” labs so that producers would know, early on, if their product is contaminated. They asked that the failed product be returned, not destroyed, so they could fix it. They also sought small-batch testing and adequate staffing.
“If you make things too difficult, we will be competing with the black market,” said Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Under California’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, regulators must ensure cannabis quality to end the use of toxic and harmful marijuana pesticides.
Now none of California’s existing marijuana laws mandate any kind of testing — which means patients have just trusted that their product is safe for consumption.
But that’s changing. The final regulations for testing of all medical marijuana will be released later this year. Marijuana consumed for adult use will likely follow the same rules.
Testing for potency and contaminants like pesticides, microbes and fungus will create reliability, safety and standardization in a business that has long relied on the casual assurances of, say, your skanky friend from Stonerville.
“We are all hear to listen to comments,” said Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation. Similar hearings have been held in Eureka, Los Angeles, Sacramento and elsewhere.
“These are draft regulations. We intend to make changes,” she said. “Your comments are important to us… It’s your opportunity to say what it should look like.”
The initial standards for success should not be too rigorous, said J. Stephen Taylor of the Sonoma County Marijuana Center. “People won’t bring in medicine to be testing if it might fail,” he said. “Maybe there could be a graduated system, while protocols are built in.”
A pre-testing or “R&D” license would allow a producer to find out early on if their plants or products have been contaminated, others said.
“Right now it is looking like we would only be able to test once and if that test fails, our product is destroyed,” said Patrick Griffith of Ocean Grown Extracts. “That is what happened in Oregon and it ended up turning into a big mess. Allowing us to do ‘R&D’ sampling would let us pre-test our materials — and if it does fail, it will give us the opportunity to clean up the material and then retest.”
The price of testing must not be out of reach, said Justin Fischedick, a scientist with Union City’s Ea Laboratory. “We have to balance costs with safety,” he said.
Moreever, the state needs to hire enough staffers to efficiently accredit the labs, said Stephen Albarran of Palo Alto’s Confidence Cannabis Software.
“The bottleneck that caused problems in Oregon was understaffing — one team had to do all the accreditation of all the labs in the state,” he said. “This caused delays.”
He also urged the government subsidized testing, like it does with water, then more producers would be willing to participate.
‘The thing that makes lab testing effective is when everybody wants to do it,” Albarran said.
“The issue comes when it becomes a necessary evil that costs a lot of money. Then people try to get around it.”
To review the proposed medical cannabis regulations, go to www.cannabis.ca.gov.
If you seek to provide comment and could not attend the hearing, can get involved in the regulatory process by going to http://www.bmcr.ca.gov/about_us/documents/17-065_public_comment.pdf.
For additional information about the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, or to subscribe to email alerts to hear about regulatory updates as they become available, go to http://www.bmcr.ca.gov/.