The Oregon Health Authority on Friday relaxed rules on marijuana testing following complaints the regulations were costing businesses time and money, and re-energizing a black market.
The new, temporary testing rules allow growers and processors, the businesses that create extracts and concentrates of the psychoactive ingredient THC, to submit larger batches of plants and products for testing. The Health Authority when it first rolled out the rules Oct. 1 also changed the batch requirement to allow a smaller number of batches to be tested.
However, the new rules announced Friday do not relax standards for pesticides, a sticking point and the cause for recalls of contaminated marijuana from four Oregon dispensaries since Oct. 1. The temporary rules “balance testing costs for the marijuana industry with public health protection for consumers,” according to a statement from the Health Authority.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Aviv Hadar, co-founder of Oregrown, a Bend-based marijuana business that grows, processes and sells its own products. “Any change right now is a step in the right direction.”
The Health Authority released two pages of temporary rules covering a number of topics, including label requirements, batch and sample sizes and an increased tolerance for concentrations of THC and cannabidiol, or CBD. By increasing batch and sample sizes, producers and processors may test fewer samples, which may lower costs and streamline the testing system, according to the Health Authority.
“We are pleased that the (Health Authority) listened to the feedback provided by the industry to ease some of the more stringent testing regulations,” said Lori Glauser, chief operating officer at Evio Labs, a marijuana testing lab in Bend. “It’s going to offer some relief to producers and processors, probably not to the degree they were looking for.”
Marijuana in Oregon’s legal recreational and medical markets must be tested for potency, pesticides, solvents, microbiological contaminants such as mold and mildew, and moisture content. Oregon is the first to require mandatory, pre-emptive testing of marijuana and marijuana products before they reach consumers, said André Ourso, medical marijuana program manager for the Oregon Health Authority.
One significant change, Ourso said, allows marijuana processors to replace process validation with an annual control study. Basically, that allows processors to perform one test per year of their methods to ensure uniform potency of their products. Reducing that baseline measure to once a year rather than three times reduces costs, Ourso said.
The changes announced Friday also allow processors to combine products for testing into lots of no more than 1,000 unit batches. Growers may combine different strains of marijuana into one batch of no more than 10 pounds for pesticide and other contaminant tests. Each strain must be tested separately for potency, however. Also, the authority dropped a requirement that processors test for the presence of alcohol-based solvents butanol, propanol and ethanol.
Ourso said that a total of 307 samples, from dried flower to processed extracts, have failed for pesticides, solvents or both since Oct. 1.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture created a short list of recommended pesticides for cannabis users. The Health Authority sets limits for the presence of those pesticides, and the presence of any of a much longer list of pesticides on marijuana means the product must be destroyed.
Some marijuana growers and processors said the state standards are too high, that they should be set in line with standards for fruits and vegetables, or tobacco. Ourso said Friday that he’s heard the same argument.
“There is a higher standard (for marijuana),” he said, “and there’s a couple of reasons.”
One, fruits and vegetables are eaten, not smoked as marijuana and some of its processed extracts are, he said. The effects of pesticide compounds on the human body after they’re heated or burned is largely unknown. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued no guidance on pesticide use on marijuana. Research on the topic is scarce because marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by federal authorities.
“The fact of the matter is that it’s also used as a medicine and a drug,” Ourso said, “and taken by people, vulnerable populations, with weakened immune systems, and elderly and, in some case, by children. So it doesn’t match up that it’s exactly like an agricultural crop.”
Hadar, of Oregrown, said his company grows organic marijuana, and its products have never failed a test. He, too, said the pesticide requirements need to be made comparable to standards set for crops similar to marijuana. But, he said, some businesses will succumb in a regulated industry.
“The goal is to make a healthy product, and what hits the market is safe for consumers,” Hadar said. “It’s time for the big boys to play. If you want to release a product into the OLCC recreational market, you need to know what you’re doing.”
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