POST CATEGORY: Growtech

Industry Divide: Pesticide Regulation In Oregon

April 01, 2017 | SimoneFischer

The divide between Cannabis test labs and Cannabis business continues to grow as pesticide regulations come under fire.

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The honeymoon is over. 

The divide between Cannabis test labs and Cannabis business continues to grow as pesticide regulations come under fire. After speaking with multiple growers, edible producers, labs and dispensary personnel, I write to bring you common ground and clarity on the subject and impact of pesticide regulation. Testing costs have been a major source of contention among Cannabis businesses. Growers, extractors, edible producers and processors argue testing prices drive up costs and the burden ultimately falls on the consumer. Test labs argue they have factual science guiding their practices and prices, and must take public safety into account.

Before adult consumption was passed into law, dispensaries operated under the Oregon Health Authority. Only patients with valid OMMP cards could purchase Cannabis/Cannabis products at dispensaries. Pesticides, mold, mildews and residual solvents were all originally required to be tested because dispensaries served immune-compromised patients. 

pesticide-regulation-quote.jpgOnce the OLCC took over recreational Marijuana, they adopted most of the same testing standards that were applied to medical Cannabis testing regulations. But now, all of that could change. A new bill has been introduced asking to move from mandatory pesticide testing to random sampling. Ultimately, transitioning pesticide regulations to an honor system.  

Instead of 100 percent of batches being tested for pesticides, 33.3 percent or one-third of batches would be tested instead. But, if one batch fails pesticide testing, it triggers pesticide testing for all batches within the harvest lot. If you have up to 30 pounds of cannabis to be tested, one batch would be tested for pesticides. If you have 151 to 180 pound to be tested, six batches required to be tested for pesticides. Again, if one batch fails, the entire harvest lot would undergo testing. 

Growers, extractors and edible processors are in favor of these potential new rules. Labs? Not so much.

I spoke with Caleb Hayes, lobbyist and director of Oregonians for Public Health & Safety, on the series of impacts this new regulation would have, if passed.  

“Ten percent of flower on the market fails compliancy tests, but the most egregious offenders are concentrates,” Hayes said. “They have an even higher fail rate at 26 percent. Random sampling is like spot-checking to see if there is a problem, but the issue is, we already know there is a problem. The safety of the public is potentially compromised.” Green Leaf Labs did not comment. 

Mike Smith, master grower and owner of Geek Farms discussed his thoughts on the current state of pesticide testing. Smith said he believes reasonable pesticide testing should be in place. 

“I think the biggest issue is that we took Cannabis as a whole and said ‘no’ to all pesticides without looking at what is and isn’t dangerous when growing and consuming Cannabis,” Smith said. “I am unable to use microbial Spinosad even though it’s bacteria based and OMRI listed. When people hear the word “pesticide” they think harsh chemicals. But there is a difference between organic and chemical pesticides. Growers should have a seat at the table when labs and legislators are creating these laws. Growers must to have ways to protect their crops and ensure they aren’t putting public health in jeopardy.

Washington’s Cannabis industry does not require preemptive pesticide testing, only potency. Colorado only tests for 11 currently banned pesticides. Growers’ argue Oregon Cannabis labs are using fear-mongering tactics to push agendas, so they don’t lose money if our system would convert to random sampling.

“The general public does not trust Cannabis growers,” Smith said. “And it feels like the labs are largely responsible for this distrust. My samples have continued to pass compliancy standards, but I still have to submit for pesticide testing despite my clean practices. I think moving to random sampling would be a solid move to keep overhead costs down for growers, and remove the cost burden passed to the patient or recreational consumer.” 

“The ten-pound batch limits also stifle my business because I typically run 30- to 40-pound rooms. I have to pay three to four rounds of testing for one crop. It ultimately affects payroll. Instead of having two full time trimmers, I now employ four part-time trimmers because I can only harvest in ten-pound batch increments. Testing requirements aren’t on par with what growers need from them to get from point A to point B. It’s created a riff.” 

Tyson Lewis, owner and head grower of High Noon Cultivation, spoke on the subject of pesticide regulations and the potential impact of random sampling. His answers largely echoed the same industry-specific frustrations Smith of Geek Farms brought up.

“Pesticide testing is absolutely necessary,” Lewis said, “but it seems like the people implementing these laws have no idea what it’s like to actually farm a Cannabis crop from start to finish. We, as growers, must have organic ways to go about controlling pests. Spinosad is a USDA organic listed bio insecticide. But I can’t use it to farm Cannabis. It’s banned by current standards and I think we should examine issues like these,” Lewis said. “I think moving to a random sample model will still hold our industry accountable and maintain public safety. If you are using banned products you will be caught.”

“My other main issues are the cost of testing and lab oversight. Ten-pound batch limits are going to get really expensive as a commercial grower. I think labs and growers should get together and reevaluate these standards,” Lewis said.

Both commercial growers complained about gross lack of lab oversight. Who polices the labs? Who ensures labs are following compliance and staying current on lab standards? 

I discussed these industry grievances with Hayes, and it sounds like solutions can be expected in the future. Currently, they are working on passing the proposed amendments to Senate Bill 306. This would mean starting July 1,

 “…the Oregon Health Authority shall employ three full-time equivalent employees for the purpose of accrediting laboratories that conduct tests of marijuana items as described in ORS 475B.565.”

Meaning, using the money generated from the OMMP program to be put back into the Cannabis industry for things like lab oversight. 

Third-party lab oversight is vital to the integrity and transparency of our industry. The passage of these amendments to SB 306, allows the state to construct the foundations of Cannabis lab accountability. Hayes said he believes the labs would welcome dialog and input from growers on how to improve and streamline testing processes without compromising public health. 

Laura Brannan and Hovering Laplante, owners Elbe’s Edibles, had a few words on the subject of testing.

“We have our flower tested, butter tested, and the end product tested. My number one concern for pesticide testing, is when we hear that Cannabis testing is more strict than food testing, we should pause,” Brannan said. “At that moment we have done everything wrong because we are working with a recreational drug. When we are doing that much testing, we know there is other interest involved other than the safety of the public. Because the lab tests are so outrageously priced, it forces most edible companies to buy from one source of distillate because they can get a lot of it for cheap, because these companies are backed by millions of dollars. What this does is close down every mom or pop, - mom and mom, or dad and dad – small business. We can not afford to compete against $1 million pockets.” 

On the hotly contested subject of testing pricing, Hayes said under the ten-pound batch limit, the cost breaks down to 7 cents a gram to test when it comes to flower. When writing the law, they chose the ten-pound batch limit because they could adequately ensure public safety at that rate. The labs’ biggest concern in regard to random sampling is contaminated products entering the market undetected. Hayes said that if we forgo mandatory pesticide testing, labs will lose money and livelihoods could be threatened. 

“We went to the meetings,” Brannan said. “I was on the ruled advisory committee for edibles, but testing is still an issue. I am not against pesticide testing; I am against testing redundancy and the arbitrary numbers they pull out of thin air. There is no third-party to ‘lab the labs’.” 

“They aren’t acknowledging the nuances of the industry,” Laplante of Elbe’s Edibles said. “The labs are creating these campaigns around public fear and essentially saying we don’t care about our patients, customers or the industry. We originally hail from a medical background.” 

Mark Kelley, operations manager of Shaman Cannabis in southeast Portland said his biggest area of concern was concentrates. The cost of dabs and vape pens has skyrocketed because of the costs of lab testing. One gram of concentrate would usually range from $30 up to $60 per gram for high-quality nug runs and live resins back in the medical market. Now, it’s common to see grams of concentrate starting at $60 sometimes $100 a gram before tax. 

“It’s affecting concentrate users the most and it’s pushing them back into the black market. They don’t want to shell out $75 for a Cannabis concentrate in Oregon, when they can drive to Vancouver and find something reasonable for $30 including tax,” Kelley said.

Washington does not require mandatory pesticide testing. Shop operators like Kelley argue that suffocating lab regulations do the opposite of public safety because it’s pushing the adults back into the black market. 

“Some of our medical patients use concentrates to treat themselves and they can’t afford $75 a gram, especially if they are on a fixed income,” Kelley said. “We don’t have food stamps or subsides for marijuana as a medicine.  I am not against pesticide testing, but I believe random sampling is completely impartial. Yes, it’s a bit of an honor system, but if you have random walk-throughs, random inspections done on premise, and every point of access covered with security cameras, and every product logged in your metric system, including all your additives you used to grow. Everything is recorded. I don’t see why it isn’t enough.”

“The cost of Cannabis products drives people out of the Oregon market and it compromises our closed-loop,” Kelley said. “The entire premise of our market is to keep it closed-loop so there is no federal interference. Once you compromise the integrity of the closed-loop it threatens the market. That’s what the cost of testing is doing in regard to products.” 

To dispensaries and growers, random sampling helps keep the cost of products down while remaining competitive with surrounding markets. Labs argue the cut in costs ultimately threatens public safety and puts livelihoods in jeopardy. 

Both sides I spoke with agree third-party lab oversight is a necessary measure worth pursuing, and both sides aren’t asking that pesticides testing be removed from Oregon Cannabis testing standards, maybe just reexamined. 

The industry must find a solution that maintains public safety without putting anyone out of business. Either way, somebody is going to lose money. The labs claim public health on their side, but growers argue labs shouldn’t incentivize public health by making money off the backs of other industry members. 

There isn’t an easy answer to this complex question, but it will require better communication between all parties. We are at a metaphorical fork in the road: Do we ease up on the frequency of pesticide testing at the possible expense of public health to deter users from entering the black market? Or do we maintain mandatory pesticide requirements and potentially turn users back into the black market and risk market destabilization? 

Let’s hope we find common ground. 

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