Maine is scaling back its plans for testing adult-use cannabis, calling for a staggered rollout of mandated tests that would delay some of the most expensive analyses for up to a year after the market opens.

In its proposal, the Office of Marijuana Policy would require all adult-use marijuana products be tested for potency, mold and mildew, harmful microbes and filth before they can be sold to a consumer at the very start of Maine’s recreational market, which is expected to open in March.

The last three required adult-use cannabis tests – screening for pesticides, residual solvents, and toxins and harmful chemicals like lead or mercury – would be implemented within a calendar year of rollout, said Erik Gundersen, the director of the Office of Marijuana Policy.

“While testing is critical, we believe it is equally important that testing be done right,” Gundersen said Friday. “It takes time for independent, top-quality labs to establish themselves and develop the capacity necessary to support the growing volume of product moving through a newly launched adult-use program.”

Several marijuana testing labs currently operate in Maine, testing medical marijuana for dispensaries and caregivers that want to advertise their products as clean or having a specific amount of THC, the cannabis component that gets a user high. But medical marijuana testing is not required under state law.

None of these labs that run voluntary tests of medical cannabis products has applied for a license to conduct the recreational marijuana tests required by state law. The state has been ready to accept an adult-use testing lab application since Monday, but none had come in as of Friday.

Other states have struggled to license enough labs to test all the marijuana products prepared for sale and Maine has taken steps like licensing testing labs before all other marijuana businesses to avoid the backlog of products waiting to be tested and empty retail store shelves that have plagued other states.

Massachusetts, the only other New England state that allows recreational sales, delayed its adult-use roll-out from July to November 2018 until it could license two labs. They remain the only labs available to the state’s 28 adult-use marijuana shops, which is causing supply problems to this day.

But Maine lawmakers did write flexibility into the state’s marijuana laws to allow for the waiver of testing rules if the state failed to attract enough testing labs at the start of the market to conduct all mandatory state tests. Last month, Gundersen said he hoped such a wavier wouldn’t be necessary.

The plan to phase in three out of the seven cannabis tests required under Maine law was tucked inside new state testing rules adopted Friday. The rules will be in place until February 2020, before the market will launch, so the phase-in plan is subject to change before the first adult-use sales take place.

The state will hold a Dec. 23 public hearing on its plan to make the temporary testing rules permanent.

In defense of this approach, Gundersen noted that requiring extensive testing before there is adequate lab capacity would create a bottleneck in the regulated industry that would only bolster the continued success of the black market, the very thing that legalization is supposed to starve out of existence.

“Consumers moving from illicit market to the regulated market deserve the benefit of purchasing product that has been subject to testing, which is why we propose immediately undertaking those tests we know we can do and requiring progress, within a year, to the testing of all seven categories,” he said.

Starting a testing lab is expensive, Gundersen said. Many investors will wait until there is a robust market in place to make sure there is enough product to be tested and money to be made to justify big investment in expensive testing equipment, said Gundersen.

A staggered rollout gives labs time to become certified and licensed and grow with the industry, he said.

Paul McCarrier, the president of Legalize Maine, applauded the department’s reasonable approach, noting that it will afford protection to consumers without overcharging them. Regulation is needed at the start of this market, but too much too fast and it will drive up prices and drive consumers back to the black market.

“At the end of the day, testing is not unreasonable, not when it comes to public health and safety,” he said. “But I’ve been smoking untested weed for 17 years and I’ve never gotten sick. So we’ve got to be reasonable, and we’ve got to keep it affordable, or the legal market is dead before it even starts.”

The Maine Medical Association calls marijuana contamination “one of the most significant risks” facing the legal market. Threats can range from E. coli poisoning to deadly lung infections, but most risks can’t be accurately calculated because federally funded research is severely restricted.

In Maine, no one is checking to see if the medical cannabis being sold now is safe. It has been legal since 1999, with 50,000 certified patients buying $50 million of cannabis a year to treat conditions that range from glaucoma to AIDS, but Maine is the only state that doesn’t require any of it to be tested.

But Nick Des Lauriers, the business manager of ProVerde, said his lab has found that Maine’s marijuana is rife with contaminants of all kinds, ranging from high levels of residential solvents like naphtha in the concentrates to moldy flower. Failing cannabis products are the norm, he said.

However, data from regional hospital intakes and poison control records indicate Maine consumers aren’t getting sick from contaminated marijuana. Northern New England Poison Control Center got fewer than 15 calls about contaminated cannabis over the last three years, and none of those led to hospitalization.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported five cases of lung illness related to e-cigarette products, but isn’t saying which products the patients were using or if they bought the products from a regulated tobacco or marijuana store or from a black market dealer.

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