State medical-marijuana testing labs licensed by the Marijuana Enforcement Division can no longer accept and test private samples dropped off by patients and caregivers. Legally, they're only allowed to test marijuana from state-licensed marijuana facilities.
Officials say the move keeps the state out of the federal government's cross-hairs by maintaining a tight lock on marijuana inventory. But it also punishes home-growing patients who want to know what they are putting in their bodies and prevents objective, third-party tests from being conducted on products currently for sale.
According to the MED, the rule has been in effect since October 15, 2013. But it wasn't being followed -- at least not so strictly that the Denver Post wasn't able to get independent tests done on edibles as recently as March through Steep Hill-Halent, a MED-licensed lab. DOR officials haven't admitted that those tests, which showed an embarrassing lack of oversight on behalf of the MED, spurred the sudden enforcement of the rule and announcement of the change. But the timing is curious and brings up another point: Westword (and the Post, as well as any other media outlet) will no longer be able to do our own independent tests at state-verified marijuana labs.
The MED's justification? It says its marching orders come straight from the federal Department of Justice guidelines that outlined priorities for federal prosecutors when debating whether or not to prosecute otherwise state-legal cannabis operations. In particular, the MED points to the stipulation that says measures have to be in place to prevent diversion.
"In order to successfully implement and regulate the retail marijuana industry, the Department of Revenue must have a secure and reliable way to track all marijuana inventory that is sold to the consumer," notes Natriece Bryant, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue, in an e-mail. "It would be a violation of regulation for the Retail Marijuana Testing Facility to accept test samples from those not licensed to sell marijuana.
"The department's primary concern is to ensure safe products are being sold to the consumer as well as allowing for the availability of data should the department ever have to discuss or disclose aggregate data to the media, public or health officials."
Consumer safety is the department's primary concern, Bryant adds: "The purpose for such stated precautions is to ensure the safety of the consumer, but to also ensure that products are not being tested by those not authorized to sell marijuana in Colorado. There is no allowance for inventory to come from another source other than from a Retail Marijuana Establishment because chain of custody is the hallmark of inventory accountability."
But at least one testing lab remains open to testing private samples. Charlie Steinberg, owner of Herbal Synergy, a mobile testing lab not officially approved by the MED, says that otherwise, the MED decision leaves home-growing patients who want to know what they are putting in their bodies in the dark.
"We saw this coming from a distance and decided to continue on our mission: to provide accurate and affordable testing to the cannabis community," Steinberg wrote in a release late last week.
"Now that the MED has barred all private growers, caretakers, and home grows to increase their knowledge of the products they produce, we see a position to increase awareness and work for anyone interested in having their products tested," the release continues. "We realized a long time ago that the MED was not here for the patients. We are."
There may be light at the end of tunnel, though: According to Bryant, the policy might not be set in stone.
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"The MED is continuing to collect data and information through the Marijuana Inventory Tracking Solution," she writes to Westword. "Some of that data will be specific to testing. The MED will use that data to help reassess the regulations to guide future development."
*An earlier version of this post included a mislabeled photograph. It has since been corrected.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Ratio of alcohol DUI busts to pot stops at weekend checkpoint was 21 to 1" and "Jannene Barrett among those busted in alleged Boulder drug ring operating near school."