Oregon marijuana regulators fail to meet even basic standards, state audit finds

By Noelle Crombie | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Oregon’s marijuana program has failed to keep up with mandatory inspections, its weak testing system threatens to expose consumers to contaminants and regulators have done little to address black market diversion, according to an unsparing new audit from the Secretary of State released Wednesday.

The audit represents the first detailed examination of Oregon’s regulation of the legal cannabis market since voters said yes to legalization in 2014, when supporters promised that state oversight would rein in an industry that had flourished for decades in the underground market.

Auditors concluded that regulators have failed to meet even basic promises. It found, for instance, that just 3 percent of recreational marijuana retailers had been inspected and only about a third of growers. It said the state’s medical marijuana program, long a source of black market diversion both in the state and nationally, has “structural weaknesses” that “greatly increase the risk of diversion.”

The audit also found an inadequate testing system. For years, Oregon has struggled with its pesticide testing regulations, which are intended to ensure that products meet certain standards before they land on retailers’ shelves.

In 2015, The Oregonian/OregonLive exposed critical gaps in the state’s pesticide regulations that resulted in tainted product entering the regulated market. The series tested cannabis products and found they contained a total of 14 chemicals, including a common household roach killer.

A tainted high

The state has since imposed tighter regulations, but the audit found that it lacks a way to verify the accuracy of test results. It also said that while the state requires certain tests for recreational cannabis, testing isn’t required for most medical marijuana.

And while other states require tests for heavy metal and microbiological testing, Oregon does not.

“Oregon’s marijuana testing program cannot ensure that test results are reliable and products are safe,” the audit says, adding that the Oregon Health Authority, which regulates marijuana labs, has “limited authority, inadequate staffing and inefficient processes.”

It found that pressure in the highly competitive cannabis industry “may affect lab practices and the accuracy of results.”