Audit Release: Oregon’s Framework for Regulating Marijuana Should Be Strengthened to Better Mitigate Diversion Risk and Improve Laboratory Testing


Report Highlights

Gaps in Oregon’s developing marijuana regulatory framework increase the risk of legal marijuana diverting to the black market, especially in the medical marijuana program. To improve marijuana laboratory testing and protect public health, the state should consider requiring testing for heavy metals and microbiological contaminants, enhance test oversight, and ensure labs meet accreditation standards.

Background

Voters approved Measure 91 in 2014, legalizing the production and sale of recreational marijuana in Oregon. However, marijuana remains illegal federally, and federal officials have expressed serious concerns about marijuana from Oregon crossing into other states. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulates the recreational marijuana market, while the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) oversees medical marijuana and marijuana lab testing rules. As of November 2018, retail sales had generated $207 million in tax revenue.

Purpose

This audit’s purpose was to determine whether Oregon has adequate controls to deter the diversion of legal marijuana to the black market and to oversee marijuana laboratory testing to ensure test results are accurate.

Key Findings

  1. OLCC is still establishing a regulatory framework for recreational marijuana and has put many controls in place, such as requiring seed-to-sale product tracking and surveillance cameras. However, with no cap on the number of licenses and more applications than expected, staffing and inspections have not kept pace. As a result, only 3% of retailers and 32% of growers have had a compliance inspection.
  2. Structural weaknesses in the medical marijuana program greatly increase the risk of diversion. In contrast to OLCC, OHA lacks the authority to put important controls in place, such as requiring medical growers to have surveillance cameras. The agency has only four permanent staff to inspect roughly 14,000 grow sites and has struggled with decreasing revenues, turnover, and performance management.
  3. All recreational marijuana in Oregon must be tested for pesticides and solvents, but most medical marijuana is not required to be tested. Also, OHA does not require heavy metal and microbiological testing, in contrast to some other states. These contaminants could pose a risk to consumers.
  4. Without a mechanism for verifying test results, Oregon’s marijuana testing program cannot ensure that test results are reliable and products are safe. Limited authority, inadequate staffing, and inefficient processes reduce OHA’s ability to ensure Oregon marijuana labs consistently operate under accreditation standards and industry pressures may affect lab practices and the accuracy of results.

Recommendations

OLCC and OHA agreed with all 23 of our recommendations; for three of them, OHA indicated it would be unable to take action without further statutory authority. The agencies’ responses are included at the end of the report.

Read full report here.

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