Unless the public shows some outrage, Oregon’s cannabis testing regulations are in danger of becoming a lot less regulated. No, the state doesn’t intend to change the legality of cannabis use, but it does plan to seriously alter its current pesticide testing regulations.
Under current regulations, every batch of cannabis concentrates is required to be tested. Additionally, 33% of each cannabis flower batch must be tested.
The proposed changes would only require processors to submit one random sample of cannabis concentrate for testing per year, and only 20% of each cannabis flower batch will require testing.
The changes were presented to the Rules Advisory Committee (RAC) much to the surprise of RAC members. The official role of the RAC is to assist “in the development of the fiscal impact statement and [help] the [Oregon Liquor Control] Commission develop the set of rules necessary to implement the provision of Measure 91” (the legalization of recreational marijuana initiative). This description leads one to believe that the RAC would play an active role in establishing these kinds of changes, but in reality, members were more like spectators than partners when it came to this policy shift.
Roger Voelker, a RAC member, stated, “These changes were introduced at the RAC. We thought we were going to be talking about some of the problems concerning edibles and batch sizes and addressing a wider scope of issues, but they brought these changes to our surprise.”
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the changes until April 30, and unless it is overwhelmingly clear that these changes are not in the public’s best interest, they will go into effect beginning June 1.
All in Favor Say of Cannabis Testing Say…
Proponents of the change argue that testing is too expensive. Some even suggest that labs are colluding in order to turn a profit. Regardless of the labs’ motivations for their prices, the consumer is ultimately the one who takes on that cost.
Others argue that the wait time between lab processing and shelf placement takes up the valuable life span of a product and causes dispensaries to place expired or nearly expired products on their shelves. It was the complaints from the customers regarding cost and concentrate delays, according to advocates of the changes, that propelled the proposals into existence.
All Against Cannabis Testing Say…
Opponents to these revisions argue that they destroy the progress the industry has made to ensure the safety of their products. To meet the state’s demands, some dispensaries have invested serious time and money into creating robust quality control processes. These changes dishonor that work and do nothing to encourage dispensaries to invest in safety.
Those in favor of “clean cannabis” in Oregon also cite some pretty disturbing data about the current quality of cannabis with the stricter regulations. 26% of reported cannabis concentrates are failing in medical marijuana samples—this number doesn’t include tests that were never reported. Labs that prescreened batches found that between 50% and 70% of concentrates had failed the screening, but a sizable portion of those results were unreported since they were prescreens. 10% of cannabis flowers failed pesticide-screening tests. Opponents to the changes argue that loosening regulations is akin to hoping to solve the industry’s biggest health debacle by pretending it doesn’t exist.
And in response to accusations of lab collusion? Lab employees say it isn’t happening. Camille Holladay, owner of Synergistic Pesticide Lab in Portland, said,
“People have no idea how expensive it is to open and operate a lab.”
Beyond the standard costs of rent, insurance, labor, utilities, marketing that most businesses have, there are instrumentation/equipment purchase and ongoing costs, specialized labor costs, accreditation related costs, calibrations, consumables, solvents, chemicals, gases, hazardous waste costs—I could go on. This is why the extremely low pricing prior to October was unsustainable and proved that labs charging that were either losing tons of money or not actually doing the work at all.”
Why is Cannabis Testing Even a Debate?
Oregon’s current pesticide regulations have been lauded as some of the toughest in the cannabis industry, and that’s a good thing. Some pesticides are known to be harmful to children and the environment, and any regulations put in place to keep pesticide use in check is a safe thing for everyone.
But lab testing is extremely important for an array of reasons beyond pesticide identification. In addition to testing for pesticides, the best tests are also able to identify cannabinoid potency, terpenes, residual solvents, microbial contamination, and mold.
Some dispensaries get away with lying about the cannabinoid levels in their products, and that can be a huge inconvenience for someone looking for a product for a medicinal reason.
Knowing the terpene profile of a product equips consumers with the knowledge they need to make the most beneficial purchase based on their individual needs. Solvent identification can let processors know if they need to refine their extraction processes to keep products as non-organic chemical free as possible.
Obviously, people need to know if there is E Coli or mold in their weed.
All of these things matter, so really, unless all of these things are being regulated, one could argue that Oregon’s current standards aren’t doing enough either.
And if that’s true, then why would Oregon depart from standards that clearly prioritize the safety of consumers, at least more than the proposed revisions? How can that even be possible?
It’s possible because cannabis is federally illegal, which means that, while the federal government is currently allowing recreational cannabis to happen in states that have approved it, there is no FDA approval, no official federal oversight, no guidance over a nascent industry with a lot of potential, but a lot of weeds to untangle itself from to actualize it.