Pubdate: Sat, 13 Aug 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager


The thousands of Canadians who buy their cannabis from illegal 
dispensaries still have no assurance their products are safe from 
contaminants or as potent as advertised, even though Ottawa is 
changing its rules on the testing of medical marijuana.

Changes announced on Thursday that take effect on Aug. 24 will allow 
registered home growers to take their products for testing at a 
handful of laboratories that are accredited by Health Canada. Under 
the new system, patients whose doctors authorize them to grow medical 
marijuana will be able to pay for tests to find out how much of the 
psychoactive compound THC is in their crop and ensure it is free of 
harmful pesticides and contaminants such as mould or bacteria.

But the new rules - seen as a temporary response to a recent court 
ruling that the current mail-order system is too expensive and 
inaccessible for some Canadians - will not include dispensaries.

That is because many get their products from growers who operate 
outside the legal medical cannabis system. These growers supply 
hundreds of illegal marijuana dispensaries, which a Federal Court 
judge said are spreading across the country because patients are 
"voting with their feet" to ditch the mail-order system.

"Dispensaries are here, they're not going away," said Dieter 
MacPherson, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis 
Dispensaries, a trade association representing 45 pot stores across 
the country. "And it would only be prudent to include them in a 
public-health framework, insofar as to at least allow them to openly 
and transparently have the products that they're selling tested for 
safety and quality."

The shift in rules follows a Globe and Mail investigation into the 
contents of marijuana from nine unregulated Toronto dispensaries. 
Tests showed that three of nine samples of dried cannabis would not 
meet Health Canada's safety standards for licensed growers - with one 
strain showing signs of potentially harmful yeasts and mould. That 
investigation also revealed that labs have been warned not to test 
samples provided by anyone other than one of the 34 licensed 
producers - a threat taken so seriously that the lab that tested for 
The Globe did so on condition that it would not be identified.

Some owners of dispensaries say they get their supplies from the 
thousands of home growers who were licensed under a system that 
predated efforts by the former Conservative government to force 
patients to use larger commercial producers. During the court 
challenge, 28,000 previously licensed home-growers were granted 
rolling injunctions to continue producing their own pot, sometimes in 
single crops of more than 100 plants each.

The problem is that many dispensaries buy from underground growers, 
and no system is in place to determine the difference.

Hubert Marceau, founder and director of development at Quebec-based 
Laboratoire PhytoChemia, said if his lab receives a sample from a 
licensed home grower, there is no way to verify if the product is 
going to a dispensary.

Jonathan Page, co-founder of Vancouver-based Anandia Labs and leader 
of the team that first sequenced the cannabis genome, said most home 
growers produce medicine only for themselves or a patient designated 
by Health Canada to have someone grow for them, but a lab can do 
little to determine whether the legal medical marijuana is destined 
for storefront sales.

"If they're properly licensed as a personal grower, you're not able 
to say 'what are you doing with all this stuff,'" Dr. Page said.

Dr. Page said the average home grower - who can have up to five 
plants - is unlikely to pay for anything more than a basic test for 
levels of THC or CBD, a compound that has been reported to have 
therapeutic properties.

That will cost from $90 to $125, he said.

He suspects only larger home growers supplying more than one patient 
will pay about $900 for further tests, including for contaminants 
such as pesticides and bacteria.

"I don't think individual patients growing are going to be doing 
testing on every batch," Dr. Page said. "A personal grower knows if 
they've applied pesticides or not."

Jodie Emery, who operates several Cannabis Culture stores in 
Vancouver and Toronto with her husband, marijuana-legalization 
crusader Marc Emery, said the government should allow all producers - 
legal or otherwise - to have their products tested.

A sample from the Emerys' Toronto store exceeded Health Canada's 
limit for yeasts and moulds in the Globe investigation.

Ms. Emery said the onus for quality control should be on growers - 
not the dispensaries.

"No restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or even a clothing store is 
required to test everything they sell," Ms. Emery said. "That 
responsibility is only on the producer or the wholesaler."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom