What Percentage of Legally Sold Medical Marijuana Tests Positive for Pesticides, Mold, or Yeast? A. 75% B. 50% C. 25% D. 0%

November 28, 2023 · Cannabis.net

Do you remember the Cannabis.net story on how Colorado regulators are catching all sorts of cheating on lab testing for legally sold cannabis?  The premise destroys the idea that you should be paying more for lab-tested, legal weed, because, well, it was safer than street sold marijuana.  Now, not only are Colorado regulators catching legal suppliers spraying and cheating on lab results, Maine has popped up as a big problem for legal buyer of medical marijuana. 

Two recent studies reveal that up to 50% of products in Maine’s medical cannabis market may be tainted with pesticides, harmful microbes, yeast, and mold. Unlike recreational-use products, medical cannabis in Maine currently does not undergo mandatory testing.

However, there are indications that this might change. The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy conducted tests on 127 medical cannabis samples, applying the same standards as the recreational-use program.

Shockingly, approximately 45% (57 out of 127) of these samples would have failed the testing, indicating the presence of prohibited substances. In a separate, more extensive study by Nova Analytic Labs, a licensed cannabis testing facility, nearly 21% of approximately 1,400 medical cannabis samples would have failed the pesticide testing panel for recreational use.

This contrasts with just under 4% of the 3,200 samples from the recreational-use market that failed the same testing panel. The samples that failed the tests commonly contained varying levels of myclobutanil, also known as Eagle 20, piperonyl butoxide, bifenthrin, bifenazate, and/or imidacloprid. These substances have the potential to cause mild to severe health issues in humans.  Lab shopping for the highest THC results is one problem labs are facing from cultivators.

Christopher Altomare, the CEO of Nova Analytic Labs, pointed out that the medical samples were provided voluntarily. Since the samples came from providers who chose to test their products rather than being part of a randomized selection, Altomare believes the contamination percentage is likely much higher.

Altomare estimated that only 10% to 20% of the lab’s business comes from the medical market, and most of those cases involve testing for potency rather than pesticides.

The medical cannabis market in Maine generated $305 million in revenue last year, with nearly 1,900 medical caregivers serving 106,000 medical card holders in August. According to Altomare, the medical market has evolved beyond its origins as a cottage industry of small-scale operations catering to a limited patient base.

Altomare emphasized the necessity for comprehensive testing regulations in the medical market, stressing that the primary goal of testing labs is to ensure public and patient safety. He expressed concerns that current measures must be revised to protect Maine patients adequately.

Implementing Changes Requires Time and Careful Consideration.

The Maine Office of Cannabis Policy has been pushing for the introduction of a mandatory testing requirement and a track-and-trace program. The goal is to empower officials to trace the origins of outbreaks or contaminants.

Nevertheless, the proposal encountered significant resistance from medical providers, known as caregivers in the industry, who contended that the suggested requirements would impose a substantial burden and incur high costs. This opposition raised concerns about potential closures of businesses or the need to pass increased prices on to consumers.

In accordance with a 2022 law, any significant rulemaking by the department necessitates approval from the Legislature. Since then, the Office of Cannabis Policy has not officially proposed a testing requirement. Yet, during a recent webinar, John Hudak, the agency’s director, hinted that this situation might change soon.

“If a business model finds it too costly to produce clean cannabis, there’s an inherent problem with that business model,” remarked Hudak, underscoring that, despite the introduction of additional testing requirements this year, the price-per-gram in the recreational-use market has decreased.

Stressing that patient health will not be sacrificed for profits, Hudak, who is a medical cannabis patient himself, revealed a personal stake in the matter by disclosing his decision to avoid using medical cannabis in Maine due to the absence of testing. He voiced criticism against the state, asserting that it has not taken adequate measures to guarantee the protection of patients.

Presently, the state’s cannabis markets are confronting proposed changes from the Office of Cannabis Policy, with neither proposal featuring any substantially drastic alterations.

Hudak mentioned that it will likely be a considerable amount of time before his office proposes any testing requirement. This move is expected to face resistance from industry stakeholders. He acknowledged that they have encountered significant opposition from within the Legislature and certain medical cannabis groups in the state.”

Hudak stressed the significance of proceeding with caution, emphasizing the need for well-informed implementation of policies and establishing a solid regulatory framework. He underscored that taking these steps is crucial to safeguard patients’ health and the integrity of the medicine. Hudak noted that this process will necessitate time and creating an efficient track-and-trace system.

Currently, the Office of Cannabis Policy faces limitations within the medical cannabis program. In contrast to the recreational-use market, where officials have the authority to enforce a product hold or order product destruction in the event of a problem or contamination discovery, no such power exists within the medical cannabis program. Hudak expressed frustration with this constraint, describing it as significantly limiting.

Mainers with Medical Vulnerabilities

During the panel on Tuesday, Steph Sherer, the founder of the medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, emphasized that contaminants are often unintentional errors. She clarified that it doesn’t imply a sinister plan to harm patients.

Sherer explained that cannabis acts as a bioaccumulator, absorbing and retaining pesticides and heavy metals present in the soil. Additionally, due to the resin on the flower, the plant easily captures bacteria from the air. She characterized this as a natural aspect of dealing with an agricultural product.

Sherer pointed out that some of the pesticides, chemicals, and other analytes tested by the department have acceptable thresholds, such as arsenic, commonly found in Maine soils and water.

However, according to Hudak, substances like myclobutanil, E. coli, and salmonella are strictly prohibited. Commonly known as Eagle 20, myclobutanil is a widely used pesticide for fruit and vegetable cultivation. While it can be washed off and is typically not a concern, the issue arises because Eagle 20 transforms into cyanide gas when burned.

Consequently, it is banned in cannabis, even in trace amounts. In the medical samples collected by the office, myclobutanil and mold ranked among the highest-tested analytes. Although mold is not entirely banned, some samples contained 30 to 40 times the allowable threshold, as noted by Hudak.

He remarked that the market comprises medical patients, often individuals with suppressed immune systems. The impact of these contaminants is detrimental for anyone, and this is particularly exacerbated when we’re discussing medically vulnerable Mainers. Sherer said, “I fail to comprehend any argument against testing medicine for a patient.”

Hudak mentioned that the office intends to publish a comprehensive report on its testing study in the forthcoming weeks. (Full Story)

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