As Oregon’s Pot Market Expands, It’s Time To Put One Agency In Charge Of It

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A signal flare that went up early this week is to be taken seriously: The Oregon Health Authority is unprepared to certify enough laboratories to adequately test Oregon-grown marijuana for pesticides, solvents and an array of biological contaminants such as E. coli. It’s a practical emergency, because starting in October profuse amounts of pot headed to emporiums statewide are supposed to be certified as contaminant-free.

Oregon-made products sold for legal consumption by adults must by law be deemed wholesome, making the health agency’s foot-dragging on lab certification a public health issue. But the impact of the agency’s unpreparedness could be economic and agricultural, as well, since the passage by Oregonians last year of Measure 91 vastly expanded the capacity of marijuana growers and sellers who now face delays. Too much product with nowhere to go thwarts any market-in-the-making.

Noelle Crombie of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that Gary Ward, administrator of the health agency’s Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, said his division was assured the necessary resources to implement state-mandated cannabis testing accreditation but that “so far we have received zero” support to do so. Significantly, Ward’s understaffed team also tests drinking water, now considered vulnerable.

In a surprise memo to the authority, Ward wrote: “We are on the precipice of collapse of environmental, drinking water and cannabis accreditation because of the lack of resources.” Crombie reported Ward was plain in saying that all work by his program on marijuana lab accreditation, as well as its work on drinking water, will come to a halt without additional resources.

That, however, is not an option. Wisely, the governor’s office immediately responded to the signal flare by saying it would ensure sufficient staffing to get the lab accreditation work done. And the health authority separately issued a statement saying it was “committed to taking steps to ensure environmental laboratory accreditation even with growing demand.” Late Thursday, a spokesman for the agency told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board the agency was in the process of temporarily doubling its capacity to certify labs. Good.

But the need for a larger, more lasting, fix is plain: The health agency, still wobbly in the wake of the Cover Oregon fiasco and swamped with the demand to test Portland’s air and water for toxics, should get out of the pot business.

This proposition was briefly discussed by a few lawmakers as the Legislature crafted statutes to implement Measure 91. But the health agency’s involvement with medical marijuana had been long and deep, and it made more sense to divvy up responsibilities with the introduction of legal recreational marijuana: Regulatory functions deriving from Measure 91 would go to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, while health certification authority would remain and expand under the Oregon Health Authority.

Whether by the governor’s decree or action of the Legislature in 2017, the liquor commission should be assigned responsibility for all tasks and find another name that features the word cannabis. To do so would bring administrative, operational and financial efficiencies as a liquor and cannabis commission would, under one roof, have sight lines to the many moving parts to marijuana’s expanded presence. To do so would mean that accountability for Measure 91’s timely implementation could be gauged in one place rather than sought from among government’s siloed agencies, one of them faltering in its own accreditation program.

Later this month, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 will hold a scheduled hearing to take progress reports on the expansion of legal pot in Oregon. One such report will come from the health agency. At the very least, that report should detail the accreditation program’s capacity to certify this year a sufficient number of testing labs to ensure Oregonians will be buying pot unsullied by contaminants. At best, though, the meeting should be an occasion to open serious discussion on placing all of marijuana’s regulatory and certification requirements under one agency.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: As Oregon’s Pot Market Expands, It’s Time To Put One Agency In Charge Of It
Author: Staff
Contact: OregonLive
Photo Credit: Beth Nakamura
Website: OregonLive