OR: Response To Marijuana Lab Accreditation Crisis Inadequate, Administrator Says


The director of the state’s lab accreditation program said the agency will stop assessing cannabis labs next week because the Oregon Health Authority has not adequately addressed workload and staffing issues.

Gary Ward, administrator of the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, on Sunday sent a letter to Jeffrey Rhoades, Gov. Kate Brown’s marijuana policy adviser, blasting the health authority for missteps in accrediting marijuana labs.

A health authority spokesman on Tuesday denied that lab assessments would be interrupted.

A spokeswoman for Brown said the governor’s staff has been in “regular communication with the agencies responsible for the lab accreditation process” since Ward initially raised concerns about a week ago.

Ward declared in a letter to health authority officials that the accreditation program was “on the verge of collapse” due to an increased workload and inadequate staffing.

The health authority responded by adding staff from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and stopping all accreditation work out of state. The agency works with labs in more than a dozen states and three countries.

Ward decried those solutions as inadequate, saying Department of Environmental Quality assessors lack the required expertise. He said curtailing out-of-state lab assessments will have a significant impact on the agency’s budget because those labs pay higher fees than Oregon labs.

What’s more, out-of-state labs, he wrote, “are also needed to enhance testing capacity of Oregon labs.” He pointed to recent lead testing in Oregon schools as an area where the state relied on out-of-state labs.

He said at least 30,000 samples were sent out of state for lead testing because Oregon labs were at capacity.

The agency, he said, did not consult him before drafting a plan on how to address the workload increase.

“Bottom line,” he wrote, “I know what I’m doing. In contrast OHA knows very little about lab accreditation.”

He wrote that the health authority, which oversees the accreditation program, came up with a plan “that will not work” and, as a result, all cannabis lab assessments will come to a halt next week.

Rhoades on Monday responded to Ward in writing, saying he’d spoken with officials at the health authority, the lab accreditation program and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

“I am confident that things are going to be moving in a more positive direction from here on out,” Rhoades wrote.

Added Rhoades: “Your points are all valid and you are certainly the expert.”

Health authority officials, meanwhile, said lab assessments will continue.

“We believed and still believe that we had staffed up sufficiently to address what we anticipated would be a large number of applicants,” said Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the health authority.

He declined to address Ward’s claim that Ward had been excluded from discussions about how to address the resource issues in the division. He would not say whether Ward took part in any talks about how to address the program’s staffing shortage.

“I don’t want to be responding to his email to the governor’s office,” said Modie, “but I will say that we quickly acted on the concerns about staffing issues.”

The program, part of the health authority’s Oregon State Public Health Laboratory, accredits labs that conduct environmental and water quality testing, as well as examine air toxics and industrial waste. Last year the program was assigned to accredit marijuana labs.

Ward told Rhoades he had worked within “our chain of command but their refusal to include us in decisions that are not implementable has pushed me to try other avenues.”

“I am desperate to prevent the collapse of the program I have worked so hard to establish,” he wrote.

The lab crisis is critical for the state’s marijuana industry. Starting Oct. 1, new products headed to marijuana dispensary shelves will have to undergo a battery of tests at accredited labs.

Those tests will assess potency, residual solvents from the extraction process used to make oil, and dozens of pesticides.

The policy shift transforms Oregon’s marijuana labs from an unregulated cottage industry into a central part of the state’s regulated market. The state’s new testing standards are intended to address pesticide contamination, which remains a concern in Oregon and in other states with legal pot markets.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: State’s Response To Marijuana Lab Accreditation Crisis Inadequate, Administrator Says
Author: Noelle Crombie
Contact: OregonLive
Photo Credit: Oregonian
Website: OregonLive