A looming crisis at the state agency that accredits laboratories that test marijuana – and drinking water – is puzzling, to put it mildly.
The Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program doesn’t normally create headlines. But it’s in the spotlight now, after its administrator warned the Oregon Health Authority that ORELAP is “on the precipice of collapse,” with a flood of applications for accreditation coming in from cannabis labs.
What’s puzzling is why this situation was allowed to reach the point of crisis, given that there have been plenty of warning signs posted since 2014, when Oregon voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana.
The head of ORELAP, Jack Ward, originally asked for three full-time employees to do the cannabis lab accreditations, which typically require two to three visits each. He got none.
The law legalizing marijuana didn’t go into effect until Oct. 1, 2015, almost a full year after the 2014 elections, leaving plenty of time to beef up staffing at the accreditation program.
The state, however, blew right past that milepost without pausing.
Even before recreational sales began in 2015, the state Department of Revenue was estimating about 400 dispensaries would open initially – increasing to about 550 by 2017-19. But state officials also blew past that warning sign, without giving Ward the staffing he had asked for.
Millions of dollars in tax revenues from recreational marijuana sales began pouring into the state’s coffers once sales were legalized, a total of $25.5 million from January through July of this year, thanks to a hefty sales tax of 25 percent. Local governments, including many in Lane County, are considering their own sales taxes on recreational marijuana.
But, with all the revenue from marijuana sales sloshing around, none of it was apparently earmarked for the program that checks the labs that test marijuana for potency and contaminants such as pesticides and solvents.
Under Oregon’s recreational pot system, all recreational pot sold to the public starting Oct. 1 is supposed to be tested by an accredited lab.
State law divvies the marijuana tax revenues up between schools (40 percent); state, county and municipal law enforcement (35 percent), and mental health/substance abuse and treatment programs (25 percent).
Gov. Kate Brown says she wants to add more workers to ORELAP – but it isn’t clear when and how. Ward says environmental, drinking water and cannabis accreditation are all now on the verge of collapse.
Failure to fund the accreditation program initially was an oversight, to put it kindly, and the sooner the state can rectify this the better.
In the meantime, one temporary solution would be to ask the labs, or the dispensaries, to add a fee to their services and products in order to fund the program that accredits not just the labs that test marijuana, but also the ones that do water and environmental testing.