Two Cannabis Farms Hit With Recall Over State’s Controversial Aspergillus Testing Requirements

The industry is up in arms over the new rules, which test for the presence of a ubiquitous fungus.

Tokin' on a weed tour bus. (Wesley Lapointe)

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission recalled batches of weed from two farms Monday because it tested positive for aspergillus, a ubiquitous fungus that festers in natural environments.

Despite outcry from the industry, which argued that such requirements would eliminate organic weed in Oregon and wreak havoc on farmers, the agency implemented the new testing rules March 1, a move WW covered in a April 19 story. Growers feared that such testing—which looks for a fungus common at farms, especially those that are organic—would cripple the industry.

This week’s recall of seven batches of weed from a farm owned by Nectar and one batch from a Eugene farm called Rebel Spirits was met with fury.

“We fear that the new guidance will needlessly drive up the cost of cannabis, wreak havoc on Oregon’s cannabis farms, and make it impossible for consumers to buy organically grown cannabis,” says Jesse Bontecou, executive director of the Cannabis Industry Alliance of Oregon. “In short, we fear these regulations will destroy the very things that make Oregon’s cannabis so special.”

The guild in particular takes issue with the manner in which the agency recalled cannabis from the farms.

In anticipation of the new aspergillus tests, the OLCC encouraged farms last winter and early this year to take aspergillus tests that, the CIAO says, would not be used for compliance purposes but would instead help the agency and the industry get a sense of what percentage of products would fail the test. The results of these “research and development” tests were documented in the state’s cannabis tracking system known as Metrc.

Bontecou says members of the industry were assured by the OLCC that such tests prior to the March 1 implementation of the new rules would not be held against farms: “Even though Oregon statute specifically says that these research and development tests cannot be used for compliance purposes, we asked staff at the OLCC to confirm that no negative consequences would follow these tests.”

But Bontecou says results from those early tests were used by the OLCC to recall the cannabis batches announced on Monday. “Today, the OLCC issued a recall based on those very research and development tests,” he says.

While the OLCC acknowledges that research and development tests were not to be used for compliance purposes, the agency felt it could not overlook the test failures it detected while doing a routine audit of the state’s cannabis tracking system.

“In the interest of public health both the OLCC and [the Oregon Health Authority] determined that the recall was necessitated because the test results indicated the presence of heavy metal and mold contamination,” says OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger. “Therefore, because of the implications to human health, the results of those tests simply could not be disregarded.”

Pettinger says the most recent fail rates for flower are 8% for aspergillus. In April, the fail rate for flower was 6%. The OLCC warns that it’s premature to draw conclusions from such fail rates since the agency doesn’t yet have a year’s worth of data.

Diane Downey, CEO of Rebel Spirits, says her 80,000-square-foot farm tested the batch that was eventually recalled back in January—twice. It failed one test or aspergillus; in the other, none was detected. It was not until Monday—five months after the tests—that Downey learned of the recall.

“It’s a horrifying situation for us,” she says. “We feel like we’ve been slandered by the OLCC.”

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