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Following the enactment of Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative by voters in 2010, the program has grown rapidly, and now legislators are poised to pass a law requiring testing of marijuana for quality control and contaminants. The basis for this additional regulation is that it is in the interest of the program’s continued success. The testing of marijuana is also expected to be well received by mmj patients who have little prior experience with marijuana and are more used to prescription packaging. Testing will ensure people can be confident they know what they are getting and that current high standards are codified and maintained. As it stands, Arizona has no requirements for testing marijuana for pesticides and other contaminants, despite a number of recalls. This state of affairs is probably not so surprising given the previous status of marijuana until it was legalized in recent years. The goal of the bill as written is to make sure Arizona buyers of medical marijuana are getting safe products that match with how they have been advertised.

State Testing

The legislation grants the Arizona State Department of Agriculture the same authority over marijuana that it has over other plants grown for human consumption. This will give inspectors the authority to visit and evaluate the facilities where marijuana is grown and cured or processed before appearing on marijuana dispensary shelves. Beginning in 2019, it proposes that products sold at Arizona’s dispensaries will be tested. Anything uncovered during testing would then be disclosed on a label, so consumers know exactly what they are getting. Sellers will be required to disclose any chemicals and pesticides used in the growing process, as well as any treatments used to control mold growth. The bill does not ban the use of specific agricultural pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals, but instead relies on making information available to the consumer for them to decide. This may lead to a new trend towards advertising marijuana products as being grown organically to make them more attractive to users. This will bring Arizona in line with Oregon, which already has strict anti-contamination programs.

Quality Control

An additional step will be quality control and testing for truthfulness in advertising. Since many mmj strains are explicitly promoted based on their THC concentrations or CBD properties, this will be verified so buyers can have confidence that the particular strain they are purchasing is as described.

Cost Implications

The initial bill legalizing medical marijuana in Arizona had no specific testing requirements, possibly out of concern that it would drive up costs and could quash the program’s expansion. With well over one hundred dispensaries already established in Arizona and more to come, the program is now in better shape to withstand these costs, though the adoption of comprehensive testing is still likely to lead to higher prices. Though that will not be seen as a reason to celebrate, some users, especially those with weakened immune systems, will benefit from knowing they are getting a reliable product regularly tested for quality and contaminants that could put their health at risk. The cost on the side of the State may well be covered by the funds already raised by the fees collected to issue mmj cards, which are substantial due to the popularity of the program. This is because the money brought in through card issuance fees greatly outweighs the costs to run the program as it stands.

Medical Community

The medical community is still adopting the use of medical marijuana for treatment and some doctors still likely see it as improper compared to using regular prescription medications. However, the risks associated with opioid pain medications mean mmj may be a far better option for some people. By having a proper testing program in place, skeptical physicians are more likely to consider mmj a reasonable and appropriate option for patients suffering from one of the covered conditions. This represents a lot of patients given that the conditions include cancer, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.

Future Directions

Ultimately, the passage of a bill requiring testing and quality control can be seen as a logical maturation of the medical marijuana dispensary program in Arizona, as other foods and drugs grown or developed for human consumption are already scrutinized similarly. The cost implications are unclear, with some reason to believe they will rise, but possibly not too much as economies of scale come into play and the State uses its financial reserves from medical marijuana card fees to fund the testing program.
Fortunately, most dispensaries are already operating to very high standards, such as the Desert Rose marijuana dispensary in Phoenix. If you are a first-time patient who is new to medical cannabis, we can provide you the information needed to get your card from a doctor. Once received, you can use it to pick from our extensive menu, or try one of our dispensary deals for extra value. Contact us today to find out more.

Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash