State agency approves Medical Marijuana regulations after lengthy Debate

HARRISBURG — The Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to approve final regulations for the state’s six-year-old medical marijuana program but not until commissioners spent hours debating a controversial testing provision.

Under the regulations, growers are required to get marijuana material tested twice by two different labs — once at the time of harvest and again after the marijuana has been processed into the product that would be sold in the dispensaries.

Trade groups had strongly opposed the regulation saying that requiring two labs to test the product at different times in the process will accomplish nothing.

In arguing for the need for the use of two labs, Department of Health officials asserted that it will prevent growers from relying on labs that fudge their results.

In other states, there have been allegations that labs have results inflating the amount of THC in the marijuana products.

Judith Cassell, an attorney with Cannabis Law PA, said that using different labs at different stages of the production process won’t shed any light on whether the THC levels detected by the lab tests are accurate. The THC levels may change from the time of harvest to later in the production process. THC is the substance that has an effect on a person’s mental state.

In addition, if the labs generate different results, there’s no obvious means for determining which results to accept, she said, describing the provision as “nonsensical.”

While Department of Health officials had pointed to the controversies over inflated THC lab results, after Ms. Cassell’s comments, Acting Health Secretary Denise Johnson said the provision isn’t intended to measure THC results, but rather to ensure that contaminants like mold aren’t in the marijuana sold in the dispensaries.

Ms. Cassell had called on the IRRC to reject the entire medical marijuana regulations to force DOH to correct them. Other marijuana industry representatives present at the IRRC meeting, while agreeing that they opposed the two lab provision, said they’d rather see the overall regulations approved so that the medical marijuana program would have final regulations.

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and the first dispensaries opened in 2018.

Up until now, growers have been allowed to use one lab and Act 44 of 2021, which updated the state’s medical marijuana law, indicates that growers can use “one or more labs.”

The meaning of that language provoked a lengthy debate, with IRRC Commissioner John Soroko questioning whether the language would have been different if the department was supposed to require two.

Act 44 says: A grower/processor shall contract with one or more independent laboratories to test the medical marijuana produced by the grower/processor. The department shall approve [the] a laboratory under this subsection and require that the laboratory report testing results in a manner as the department shall determine, including requiring a test at harvest and a test at final processing. The possession by a laboratory of medical marijuana shall be a lawful use.

The DOH plan would make more sense if Act 44 had indicated that growers were to use “two or more labs,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Soroko joined other IRRC commissioners in voting to approve the regulations, saying that overall the regulations appear likely to serve the public interest.

Region: Pennsylvania