Ohio’s medical marijuana cultivators hire third-party testing labs to examine their crops before the plants are processed or sold. Although the labs and state officials cite a litany of safeguards required under state law, patients and advocates worry about conflicts of interest.
“There should be a stable of state inspectors to create a gap between the testing lab and the cultivators,” said John Pardee, former president of the cannabis advocacy organization Ohio Rights Group.
Chris Stock, patient advocate for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, said patients reported discrepancies between test results and what they found in packages. And online forums frequented by patients are filled with complaints about mold in products, and stories about patients getting sick.
But Stock said in a statement that he has been working with the Department of Commerce and the State Board of Pharmacy, which oversee medical marijuana businesses, and “I am grateful for the incredibly diligent and thoughtful responses I’ve received from both agencies related to third-party lab testing.”
State and industry officials said the testing regime is rigorous.
A state database tracks tests and shipments, and the state won’t let medical marijuana companies move a batch to a processor or dispensary if it fails a test, said Joe Moorhead, spokesman for North Coast Environmental Laboratories in Streetsboro.
Test results “are electronically entered directly from the equipment,” Moorhead said.
A random sample is taken from every 15-pound batch of marijuana, which is subject to a new test every time it is moved to a cultivator, processor or dispensary, said Mark Nye, director of compliance for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program at the commerce department. Additionally, the labs must be accredited by a certified nonprofit agency and are inspected at least four times a year, he said.
“The system was designed intentionally to make sure that everything is tested for contaminants before it makes it into a dispensary,” Nye said.
Some medical marijuana packages include QR codes that link to test results, said Thomas Rosenberger, associate director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association.
Some patients and advocates remain unconvinced.
“When you have millions of dollars at stake, you’re creating the opportunity to put the thumb on the scale,” Pardee said.
He said he has requested test results from labs but was told the information is proprietary.
Some patients want better access to test results.
Medical marijuana patient Anthony Cordle of Columbus sent requests for information from the state’s testing database in recent months. State officials promised to create a publicly accessible database, but Cordle is frustrated by the slow pace.
“I have been getting nowhere,” he said in an email.
The Dispatch requested access to the data in September.
The process “is taking longer than it should,” said Dr. Jonathan Cachat, who until recently ran the marijuana-testing lab at Hocking College.
Cachat stressed that he isn’t accusing the state of trying to hide anything, but he said, “Ohio has just completed its first year of medical cannabis sale; we would like to see what the data looks like.”
State officials said the sheer volume of data is the reason for the delay. Thousands of tests have been conducted, and labs consider dozens of substances in each test, resulting in thousands of data points. Checking those points for accuracy, and to ensure that there is no redundancy, takes time, said Sydney King, director of strategic initiatives for the medical marijuana control program.
King promised access to the data in the coming months.