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Thu Mar 10 2022 20:21:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Should Michigan marijuana businesses disclose ‘kill step’ to customers?

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LANSING, MI -- Customers should be told if producers take steps to remediate marijuana to improve its chances of passing state testing. That was the majority opinion shared during the quarterly Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Association (MRA) meeting in Lansing Thursday, March 10.

“A lot of what we go through as a person who suffers from severe post-traumatic stress is fear of the unknown,” said Anton Harb Jr., a disabled Iraqi war veteran who spoke in favor of more product disclosure at the meeting. “And cannabis, for me, is my medicine. It’s my lifeline and I want to know what process my products have been submitted to.”

The MRA asked the public to share opinions related to marijuana remediation and how, if and when customers should be notified it occurred.

Remediation is a general term applied to any process that kill pests, yeast, mold or removes chemicals and metals in order to pass mandated safety tests. This often occurs using expensive X-ray and ozone machines that kill microbes -- the most common reason marijuana fails testing -- but there are accounts of dipping marijuana or spraying it with certain chemicals, like hydrogen peroxide.

Some marijuana business use remediation techniques in their production process to drastically improve the chance their harvest passes testing. Others use it as a corrective measure in response to failed testing.

Remediation is generally perceived negatively within the industry and is not disclosed to customers on product packaging.

The discussion comes at the time when faith in the state’s marijuana safety compliance system is shaky. The MRA issued a massive recall of an estimated 64,000 pounds of marijuana flower in November, based on claims that one of the state’s largest laboratories, Viridis, produced tests results that couldn’t be trusted. Of the recalled marijuana, nearly a quarter that was retested failed for having excessive yeast and mold or the presence of banned pathogens.

“And if a product has failed testing and is retested, I want to know that, because at the end of the day, with the Viridis scandal, a lot of trust has been sacrificed within the industry,” Harb said during the public hearing. “We need to bridge that gap. We need to build that trust again with our community, with our licensees and we need to make sure that the customers have full faith in the products they are purchasing.”

Supporters of remediation argue it ensures marijuana is safer by thoroughly killing microbes and mold spores on flower. The tradeoff, according to critics, is that it degrades desirable aspects of the flower, may result in residual chemicals that aren’t tested for and doesn’t take into account mycotoxins, potentially harmful byproducts left behind by yeast and molds, even if it’s eradicated.

“I’m not arguing whether it’s safe or good or a best practice,” Harb said. “None of that matters. As the consumer, I want to know.”

Harb equated disclosure of remediation to grocery store produce that is distinctly labelled as organic versus inorganic.

“We talk about remediation all the time,” said Rick Thompson, president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML.) “One of the things we push on is having a label: ‘remediation.’

“Some of the things that have been said in the past ... is we need to prove that it’s scientifically damaging, that there’s some sort of health consequence or there’s a real need for us to label remediation,” said Thompson, who sits on a consumer advisory board created by the MRA. “But I don’t think that’s necessary anymore.”

The MRA is reviewing administrative rules that would allow cannabis processors to use a chemical synthesis process to convert plant compounds that are not high-inducing to those that are. If those rules are implemented, marijuana products using the conversion process would have to be labelled.

The MRA “has established a precedent that they’re willing to inform people when there’s a consumer awareness issue,” Thompson said. “We expect that this remediation thing should be take care of fairly quickly.

“Establish a notification system so that we’re not dependent on the word of a budtender in order to tell us whether this product was remediated.”

Several people spoke about the importance of remediation in production. It’s commonly referred to as a “kill step” in food processing and widely used to ensure there aren’t pathogens in our produce.

Ann Arbor Attorney Benjamin Joffe, who represents cannabis businesses, argued that use of remediation is beneficial to public safety.

“Mold is everywhere,” he said. “Not to alarm anybody, but mold is in the room you’re sitting in today.”

Joffe provided a comparison of remediated marijuana to cigars he’d been aging for three years without issue in his humidor. The cigars soon grew mold when the humidity increased by 5%.

What remediation does is ensures that “if cannabis is stored improperly, it won’t grow mold in the future,” Joffe said. “Without that irradiation technology, you can have cannabis that will pass testing and if it’s improperly stored, could, and will in many cases, grow mold.”

Last week, MLive asked representatives for the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA), an industry trade and lobbying group, their opinion on the topic of customer notification related to remediated or previously failed marijuana products.

Shelly Edgerton, the board chair and a former director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Director, said the MCMA is “reviewing the proposal.”

Robin Schneider, the executive of director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, another marijuana trade group and lobbying organization with over 300 business members, supports greater transparency.

“The association has discussed this concern at length and supports required labeling of remediated product,” Schneider said. “Transparency is always in the best interest of the industry and its customers.”


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