Marijuana industry brought to a standstill by pesticide testing problems

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Once packed with marijuana concentrates and extracts, the Human Collective’s shelves are nearly empty.

Some pot leaf-patterned socks and glass pipes sit scattered among what’s left. A static screen with just 13 flower options has replaced a digital “bud list” that used to scroll through the shop’s options for people waiting in line. The lines are gone, too. Only one or two budtenders work at a time – cut in half from before.

Within months of Oregon’s full recreational marijuana industry coming online, the industry has come to a standstill with low supplies and big price jumps for consumers.

Don Morse, owner of the Human Collective in Southeast Portland, and other retailers, growers and processors blame Oregon’s strict pesticide rules for the problem.

The regulations – the first mandatory pre-emptive testing in the country for the marijuana industry – went into effect Oct. 1. But the state has so far licensed only a handful of laboratories to do the tests on thousands of products, including flowers, edibles, concentrates, oils and extracts.

And the tests are expensive – in some cases more than six times what companies used to pay, they report. Then they must wait weeks to get their products back and find out if they passed or failed.

Morse has laid off five budtenders since last month. He’s down to about 10 percent of the concentrate inventory he had before October. He can’t find anyone to sell him enough marijuana to fully restock.

That’s happening in most of the more than 400 marijuana dispensaries around the state.

For Morse, the gridlock is ironic because he pushed for the rules. He helped convince growers and processors that reasonable pesticide limits and testing regulations would be better for them and consumers. But now the fledgling businesses are in jeopardy, he said.

“We don’t want to come off like it’s boohoo and we’re only in it for ourselves,” Morse said. “The people of the state said they wanted this both medically and recreationally. They left it to the state to set the rules and the state has set the rules to the point where it’s no longer available to them. It’s this roundabout way of making cannabis illegal again.”

Megan Hatfield bought a vape pen cartridge of Sour Diesel for $45 at Morse’s store. It’s usually around $30 there, but she still considered it a bargain. She tried two other pot stores earlier in the week, finding only two other options, both at $80 for a gram.

“Honestly, I have been to a couple of places that didn’t have a selection nearly as big as this,” Hatfield said.

The Governor’s Office is expected this week to announce some temporary fixes to address the testing backlog, while the Oregon Health Authority has borrowed inspectors from other divisions to help license labs.

The slowdown is the price of safety, said Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the  health authority.

“Our goal is to protect public health,” he said, “by making sure that all marijuana products are tested for pesticides and other compounds by an accredited lab and that marijuana industry  products that fail pesticide testing don’t reach consumers.”

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