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Marijuana industry reps try to sell state lawmakers on process to help reduce testing costs

Jennifer Martin

Cannabis industry representatives told Oklahoma lawmakers during an interim study Monday that adopting standard practices used by food and drug makers could make medical marijuana cheaper and safer.

They tried to sell lawmakers on process validation, a system where data is collected at different stages of manufacturing to ensure safety. Apothecary Farms and Apothecary Extracts Director of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Kevin Gallagher explained how it might work for growers, who currently must test every batch for banned pesticides.

"If we're testing our agricultural chemicals and ensuring that those pesticides don't reside there originally, why should we have to test every single batch for pesticides, right? The pesticide contamination doesn't come out of nowhere, right? It has to be in those agricultural chemicals," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said currently, required testing makes up 48% of growers' operation costs. He said testing accounts for 5% to 10% of food and drug manufacturers’ costs.

"That's money that we can reinvest into our employees, our business, our community, and we're able to make our product cheaper so it can compete within the marketplace," Gallagher said.

If process validation were approved, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would need to develop new standards for it. OMMA Director of Laboratory Oversight Lee Rhoades said the state’s more successful labs are already doing a form of process validation by helping their clients figure out problems.

"They'll ask them, 'OK, bring us a sample of your soil,' and sure enough, there will be a metal in that soil that, that person wasn't aware was there," Rhoades said. "We have had people, couldn't understand where their salmonella was coming from. And so, somebody from a lab went out there and noticed that they had an iguana walking around in their facility. Iguanas are known for carrying salmonella."

A lab executive invited to testify, however, said few Oklahoma marijuana companies are ready for a process validation system. Integrity Testing Laboratories COO Lindsey Reynolds said they commonly run into operations looking for the lab that will give their crop the highest potency.

"That's the difference between $20,000 or $30,000 for a grow. And so, they shop for the best THC numbers, which — public health and safety, does not make sense, right?" Reynolds said.

There are more than 12,000 licensed marijuana businesses in Oklahoma, including more than 8,000 growers.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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