Moldy Malaise

What’s the hold up with the medical marijuana testing bill?

Something's rotten in the state of Arizona—and it's the weed. Well, some of it.

That's why dispensary owners, legislators and marijuana testing labs are vying for the passage of SB 1420, a bill that would mandate testing at certified laboratories for all marijuana sold in dispensaries.

Though the exact extent of moldy marijuana in the medical market is unknown, some dispensaries, such as Encanto Green Dispensary in Phoenix, have blatantly said they don't care if they sell moldy marijuana—and that's totally legal despite the apparent threat to public health.

Encanto Green Dispensary serves more than 13,000 patients, nearly 1 percent of Arizona's medical marijuana patients, managing member Bill Brothers told NBC 12 News in October 2017. But a CBS 5 December investigation revealed the dispensary rife with mold.

When asked if he'd pull the moldy marijuana, Brothers said "absolutely not." He said because Arizona has no certified labs or regulations for testing, that he'd continue to justify his gross marijuana with his own laboratories results.

Hence SB1420. Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, introduced the bill this year with widespread support. However, that support started slipping away due to a clause that would also lower card costs for patients.

Though the lower card costs are out, and the bill has steadily made its way out of the Senate and through committee hearings, it's passage is still unclear.

One of the state's two marijuana dispensary organizations, the Arizona Dispensaries Association, which pulled their support for the bill once the going got rough, decided to go directly to the governor's office to talk about the industry on April 4. Since then, the ADA has had other meeting with the governor's office as recent as last week.

However, according to one of the bill's drafters, Chief Science Officer Hope Jones of C4 Laboratories, the ADA wasn't there to try to convince the governor to support the bill.

While the ADA could not be reached for comment on the meetings, Jones said the meeting was about a bill the ADA has been working on for next year. Next year's bill will be a more comprehensive package including lower card costs and child-proof packaging in addition to mandatory testing—a sort of overhaul of dispensary regulations.

Delaying the regulation concerned Jones. She does not believe a larger bill justifies the continued practice of moldy marijuana in the industry for the next year.

However, Demitri Downing of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association said the group plans on introducing a bill next year as well.

He said he has yet to hear of a single case of patients getting sick from moldy marijuana, and that holding off until the Legislature has a chance to vote on a bill in which lower card costs can offset increased costs due to testing may be worth it.

How much mandatory testing would increase the cost of medical marijuana is still speculation at this point. But with some of the highest costs in the country for registering and renewing cards, Arizona needs to find a way to take the burden off patients.