Colorado Cannabis Industry Cheaters Warned After State Finds Adulterated Products | Westword

State Warns Marijuana Growers After "Many Examples" of Attempts to Cheat Testing

A June 2 memo from the MED pointed the finger at cheaters.
Colorado marijauna officials have noticed an increase in shady efforts to bypass mold remediation, according to a recent memo sent to business owners.
Colorado marijauna officials have noticed an increase in shady efforts to bypass mold remediation, according to a recent memo sent to business owners. Jacqueline Collins
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State investigators have identified numerous examples of marijuana product adulteration by businesses attempting to cheat contaminant testing, according to the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Marijuana contamination from mold or illegal pesticides has been an ongoing problem since recreational pot sales began in Colorado. Decontamination and remediation techniques for failed batches of marijuana were approved by the MED in 2021, but the process can be costly and doesn't guarantee the harvests will be salvaged. In a June 2 memo sent by the MED to business owners, state officials warned of a looming public health threat caused by shady techniques to cheat Colorado testing protocols.

"The Marijuana Enforcement Division has identified many examples of Regulated Marijuana Businesses adulterating Test Batches in order to pass required testing which has led to administrative actions, penalties, and in some cases Health and Safety Advisories. Adulterating or altering Test Batches is a significant public safety concern because the Test Batch is no longer representative of the Harvest or Production Batch it was pulled from," the memo notes.

The MED has issued thirteen marijuana recalls this year alone, all of them for microbials, mold and yeast. However, the vast majority of the MED recall notices also cited businesses for marijuana "improperly submitted for testing" or "not submitted for testing in accordance" with MED rules.

Ultra-violet light and ozone machines are approved remediation techniques used to kill mold in an entire batch and are accepted practices in today's marijuana industry. But the MED says that some growers who know their plants will fail have been willing to falsify testing samples in order to avoid the financial hit of paying for remediation, retesting or destroying the harvest.

Reports of cultivations using radon machines, microwaving marijuana flower and dosing samples in hydrogen peroxide have surfaced at state rulemaking hearings and in disciplinary settlements. In 2022, members of the Colorado Attorney General's Office warned marijuana industry representatives about a growing number of contamination cases involving potentially adverse health effects for dispensary shoppers.

In the MED's recent memo, department heads warned business owners that evidence of "willful or deliberate" adulteration or alteration of marijuana testing samples could result in license suspension or revocation, up to six figures in fines and a class two misdemeanor for violating public safety.

In the past, the MED hasn't come down as hard.

Details of an adulteration settlement between the MED and Denver wholesale grower Bonsai Cultivation were released earlier this year; in the settlement, Bonsai admitted to manipulating samples in 2019 by covering marijuana with hydrogen peroxide and then treating it with a UV light and ozone machine β€” two years before such remediation was approved by the state. The MED fined Bonsai $20,000 as part of the state settlement; in 2020, Denver had fined the company $150,000 in connection with the same incident. Bonsai's license to operate was never suspended.

"If the Division finds evidence of willful or deliberate Test Batch adulteration or alteration, it will recommend the strictest penalties possible to the State Licensing Authority," the June 2 memo adds.

A bill passed this session by the Colorado Legislature will soon allow state investigators to embargo or destroy marijuana products that are deemed unsafe to the public, much in the way the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment regulates food and drink. That measure, signed by Governor Jared Polis in March and set to take effect this summer, should give marijuana regulators the ability to move faster when disciplining bad actors or quarantining potentially unsafe products, according to the state Department of Revenue, which oversees the MED.
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