GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Marijuana testing used to mean checking to see if someone had been smoking it.
But with Oregon, Washington and Colorado all making pot more widely available to the public, laboratory testing for safety, purity, potency and active ingredients is adding to the legitimacy of the drug.
“This does demonstrate a shift in how we are beginning to treat marijuana in this country,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Legal products are regulated and sold in a controlled marketplace. And that’s what we are going to see – are already beginning to see – with marijuana, be it for medical purposes or simply for adult use.”
Last year, Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use and moved to put the states in charge of regulating its sale to anyone old enough to drink alcohol.
Retail sales are expected to begin next year in the two states, after regulatory machinery is developed and in play. And like alcohol, marijuana is going to carry health warnings and a rating for potency, along with certification that it meets safety limits for pesticides, molds and microbes such as E. coli and salmonella.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Oregon since 1998, but patients had to grow the pot themselves or find a grower to do it for them. The Oregon Legislature recently legalized dispensaries where growers can sell marijuana that isn’t directly provided to patients.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is expected to sign the law that also calls for pot sold in dispensaries to be tested for pesticides, mold and mildew. Rules have not yet been worked out on how that testing will be done.
Even such limited testing is good news for patients, said Dr. Alan Bates, a state senator who voted for Oregon’s new law and a family doctor who prescribes marijuana for some of his patients.
“I’m especially worried about pesticides being inhaled or ingested,” Bates said.
“We should treat it as a medical thing. If I told you there were herbicides and pesticides inside regular mediation, I don’t think people would be happy about that.”
Demand will determine if Oregon joins Washington and Colorado in requiring potency testing.
“That is important not only for medical researchers, but also patients, so they can go to a dispensary and say, I need a high-CBD strain,” said Todd Dalotto, owner of Can! Research, Education and Consulting, a marijuana research company, and chairman of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, which is helping write the new rules for marijuana.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana credited with a number of medical applications without providing a high
‘This could also be something that the market can shake out.” he said.
Market demand has already spawned a testing industry, with labs sprouting along with medical marijuana laws. Oregon, Washington and Colorado all have labs within their borders. State-mandated testing will involve certification of those labs.
“Once we have it standardized or certified, we should all be getting the same numbers,” said Genifer Murray, CEO of CannLabs in Denver. “Then people can pick a lab based on customer service and other things, versus if they are the cheapest. At least we will be all on the same playing field.”