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A Tainted High – Pesticide Laced Pot Makes It To Dispensary Shelves

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A Tainted High
LAX STATE RULES, INCONSISTENT LAB PRACTICES AND INACCURATE TEST RESULTS PUT PESTICIDE-LACED POT ON DISPENSARY SHELVES

Dab Society Dutch Treat, a potent cannabis extract sold to medical marijuana patients, sailed through state-mandated pesticide testing.

The results were printed on the label, backed by an official report. Workers at a Southeast Portland dispensary were happy to share the lab certificate. All you had to do was ask.

But, in fact, two laboratories commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive found pesticides in the same sample of Dutch Treat at levels above what the state allows.

It wasn’t an isolated case.

A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market, The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.

Marijuana that fails a pesticide screen is not supposed to be sold to patients. But two other cannabis products in addition to Dutch Treat also tested above acceptable levels for pesticides.

The Oregonian/OregonLive shopped at Oregon dispensaries, bought cannabis that had passed pesticide tests and sent the samples to independent labs for further screening. Two labs performed the analysis: OG Analytical, a marijuana testing lab in Eugene, and Pacific Agricultural Laboratory, a Portland lab that specializes in detecting pesticides on foods and agricultural commodities. Both confirmed in blind testing the presence of pesticides that should have triggered red flags from previous labs.

Ten marijuana concentrates, popular extracts made from the plant’s leaves and flowers, were screened. Pesticides were found in nearly all of them. Many of the pesticides detected aren’t regulated by Oregon’s medical marijuana rules, which means products that contain these chemicals still can be sold.

A total of 14 chemicals were found in eight of the samples, including a half-dozen the federal government has classified as having possible or probable links to cancer.

Among them: a common household roach killer and another whose health risks prompted the federal government to eliminate it for most residential uses more than a decade ago. Though many growers say they follow organic practices, only one of the pesticides detected in the analysis is approved for use in organic agriculture.

Nearly 70,000 Oregonians rely on medical cannabis to treat everything from cancer to seizure disorders. Next year, thousands of consumers are expected to enter the market as Oregon transforms into a state where it is legal to buy marijuana for recreational use.

Oregon, like other states with legal marijuana, is only beginning to grapple with the implications of pesticide use on worker safety and public health.

Patients, meanwhile, can’t be certain that what they are buying has been analyzed for pesticides — even when documentation accompanies the products. Lab representatives said that just because a sample sold at a dispensary came with a lab certificate doesn’t mean that particular portion had ever been tested.

Earlier this year, The Oregonian/OregonLive commissioned tests that identified discrepancies between the advertised potency of edible products and the actual amount of THC they contained. This latest round of testing for pesticides offers further evidence of the challenges Oregon faces as it tries to regulate the emerging marijuana market.

Consider:

• Unlike Colorado and Washington, Oregon has not told marijuana producers what pesticides they can use. And the state’s testing rules don’t cover common pesticides used in marijuana cultivation, including chemicals linked to public health risks.

• Lab results may not be worth the paper they’re printed on. One lab said it didn’t test a tainted product sold as clean, though the product was marked with a batch number that matched its lab report. Another lab said it has spotted its logo on labels of products it never screened.

• Without state oversight, marijuana labs have wide latitude to operate as they wish. Some use high-precision analytical equipment. Some don’t. Some are staffed with experienced chemists. Others aren’t. And labs are free to choose which pesticides to include in their analyses. One lab owner recently stopped testing for a pesticide that kept showing up in cannabis products, saying bad lab results aren’t good for business.

• Oregon doesn’t track marijuana that fails a pesticide analysis. Once chemicals are detected, it’s up to the grower or dispensary to keep the product off the market. Lab owners say, however, that nothing stops unethical growers from retesting tainted cannabis. What’s more, the marijuana testing industry is a competitive one shaped in part by pressure on labs to pass products to earn repeat business.

• Labs may be conducting tests at the wrong time. State law allows growers to test flowers and leaves for pesticides, and then issue a lab report. But when marijuana is processed into highly concentrated oils, pesticide levels can spike. If the product isn’t retested, the amount of chemicals may go undetected.

The owners of Dab Society Extracts pulled Dutch Treat from dispensary shelves after learning of The Oregonian/OregonLive test results.

“This was supposed to be a cleaner product,” said Alleh Lindquist, 30, one of Dab Society’s owners. “It was supposed to be super pure.” Steve Wagner, who oversees the state medical marijuana dispensary program, said the Oregon Health Authority lacks the power to regulate medical marijuana producers or labs. Without it, he said, there is little the agency can do.

“Our current authority is not where we would want it to be in order to provide for the public health and public safety that we believe both retail and medical users should have,” he said.

Oregon last year began requiring testing of medical marijuana sold in dispensaries. But the testing rules are broad and leave out some of the most common pesticides used by growers. Complicating matters, federal law requires pesticides be used according to their labels. Those labels say precisely what crops and commodities can use the chemicals. Marijuana is not among them.

What’s more, health implications from vaping, smoking or dabbing tainted marijuana concentrates are unknown, leaving Oregon medical marijuana patients in the dark about what it means to consume pesticide-laced products. No known scientific studies have determined the effects of pesticides on cannabis consumption.

Jeremy Robbins consumes butane hash oil multiple times a day to treat spasms related to quadriplegia. He called the presence of contaminated products on the dispensary market a “nightmare.”

“I have been worried about all the butane,” said Robbins, 39, of Northwest Portland, “and now I need to worry about the pesticides, too.”

A dirty high

Rodger Voelker wasn’t surprised to see pesticides in the samples he tested for The Oregonian/OregonLive.  Voelker, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology, is the scientific director of OG Analytical, one of the labs that analyzed our samples. He began testing marijuana last year and quickly suspected the pesticides used by growers weren’t covered by Oregon’s rules. Voelker, a lab scientist with a meticulous streak and high-precision analytical equipment, cast a wide net for dozens of pesticides, including many outside the rules.

His hunch proved right. From Oct. 15 to Dec. 31, more than half of the 154 concentrates, or oils, he tested were tainted.

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