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Without cannabis testing, OSDH warns 'buyer beware'

Commissioner of Health Tom Bates told lawmakers Wednesday he's worried about consumers buying tainted marijuana because there are no testing requirements in current law.

The first set of rules adopted by the Board of Health included precise testing and laboratory regulations, but the revised rules now in effect as State Question 788 goes live are silent on the issue.

That could lead to cannabis being sold that hasn't been tested at all for things like pesticide or other things that would contaminate the product, Bates said.

"I think it's important to remember, these are things that people will be ingesting into their body," Bates said at Wednesday's meeting of the legislative Medical Marijuana Working Group. "We want to do all we can to make sure that product is safe for human consumption and that it's not adulterated or contaminated in any way. The only way to do that is to have some kind of testing structure."

It's likely that some dispensaries and producers will perform laboratory tests on their marijuana, but without regulations, there is no way for a customer to know unless they ask.

Bud Scott, executive director of the trade group New Health Solutions Oklahoma, said it's abundantly clear that the best path forward includes a "limited" special session.

"Some responsible dispensaries will take the proactive measure to pay for testing according to an informal standard, but there's not a single successful program in the nation without testing protocols, laboratory standards, and more certainty for patients, physicians and the industry," Scott said.

Bates also told lawmakers he would like to see detailed regulations on how a product recall would happen and how cannabis products would be labeled and packaged. Those were addressed in the first round of Board of Health rules, but Oklahoma's attorney general warned that they didn't have the authority to regulate those aspects.

That can be remedied by the Legislature, however, when it returns to session next year. Legislators also may decide to launch a special session to implement new policies as marijuana hits the market.

During the meeting, a senator asked what would happen if the Legislature doesn't take action.

"I think we go into the start of this program in a buyer beware, kind of a Wild West scenario where it's going to be up to consumers to go in and ask very detailed, specific questions about the product, the origins of the product and what kind of testing has been done," Bates said.

In the first year, the Department of Health estimates there will be 80,000 license applicants. About 2,000 would be commercial applicants, with the other 78,000 being individuals hoping to buy and use the products.

Launching the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority will cost the Health Department about $4 million, agency staff said. The money is available from a $30 million supplemental appropriation approved by the Legislature in the wake of a financial scandal that plagued the agency.

A grand jury investigation found the $30 million wasn't needed after all and that it should be returned.

Dale Denwalt

Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown of Tahlequah. Denwalt worked as a news reporter in... Read more ›