Exciting times in Oklahoma – a brand new booming medical marijuana market with unlimited licenses and skyrocketing patient counts. As of Dec 7, 2020 there were 6,277 grower licenses and 1,996 dispensary licenses in the state, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority’s Application and Licensing Report. For just a few thousand dollars any resident can join that booming group, already the largest set of cultivation licenses in any US state.
One issue? There are currently only 23 laboratory licenses issued in Oklahoma. That’s 273 cultivators for every testing lab. In Colorado there are only 117 cultivators per testing lab, and that number already includes both medical and recreational cultivations, compared to just medical in OK. Testing requirements vary from state to state, from well known components like potency (THC), terpenes and pesticides, along with less considered substances like microbials (mold & bacteria), heavy metals, and water activity in certain places.
Testing in Oklahoma was included in early and final versions of the regulations, and became an “enforced” requirement over the summer. A deluge of brand new cannabis growers dealing with an ever-changing set of cannabis regulations has resulted in significant confusion about testing, test results, what they mean, and how to navigate results. Most importantly, what happens if you fail a test that prevents you from selling your product?
We’ve seen a number of efforts in earlier states to skirt these regulations. A common route for growers in a financial and time crunch is “lab shopping.” Failed your first test? Why not simply send samples to different labs until one comes back with a passing result, and then use that COA to sell your product? Seed to sale tracking in OK isn’t live yet, after all. The practice inevitably ends, as it did in NV, where, “Allegations emerged that test results had been manipulated, allowing products with unacceptable levels of mold, yeast and other microbials to be sold to consumers.” Lab results are supposed to be accurate, so why would you be getting passes from one lab and failures from another, if the methods are standard and certified? Fines were issued, licenses lost and the brand new CCB in Nevada is running a much tighter ship protecting consumers.
Early reports of the same have become common out of Oklahoma, where the regulators are smart, motivated and knowledgeable but short on staff and resources to keep up with a massive industry that essentially sprouted up overnight. The testing regulations, especially concerning failures, remediation, decontamination, and re-testing, have already changed a few times and it’s understandably difficult to keep up. That applies to the cultivators, however, for businesses which specialize in decontamination services (like my company, Willow) it is our job to know, understand and communicate the most up to date information to help our clients stay compliant.
This is where it gets tricky. OMMA distinguishes between “remediation” and “decontamination” following a failed test, following in Colorado’s footsteps.
“Remediation” means the process by which the medical marijuana flower or trim, which has failed microbial testing, is processed into solvent-based medical marijuana concentrate and tested in accordance with these Rules.
“Decontamination” means a process that attempts to remove or reduce to an acceptable level a contaminant exceeding an allowable threshold set forth in these Rules in a harvest batch or production batch.
Willow’s ozone technology is Decontamination – we remove microbials, so the flower can be re-tested and sold as flower. Any product that has been Remediated is no longer flower, but concentrate. If you have failed and wish to decontaminate you cannot transfer that flower – decontamination for retesting as flower must be done by the cultivator at their site. However, you can transfer a failed batch to a processor for remediation, and this is where people are getting confused. This rule is repeated twice in the Laboratory Testing section of the final regulations:
(1) Growers shall not sell or otherwise transfer any medical marijuana from any medical marijuana harvest batch until samples of the harvest batch have passed all tests in accordance with this Subchapter, except that growers may sell or otherwise transfer harvest batches that have failed microbiological testing to processors for remediation in accordance with OAC 310:681-8-1(l)(2). (Page 58)
(2) A grower may only sell or otherwise transfer a harvest batch that has failed microbiological contaminant testing to a processor and only for the purpose of remediation. (Page 63)
So what’s happening in Oklahoma right now? Growers are illegally transferring product, in most cases with no awareness that it’s not allowed, to decontamination centers employing different technologies. They are being told this is above board and unknowingly risking their licenses in an effort to save the value of their product in the quickest way possible.
I wouldn’t expect 6,000+ brand new cultivators to be intimately familiar with the fine line between remediation and decontamination in a 94 page set of rules. I absolutely would expect those whose business revolves around these terms and processes to be. It is our responsibility to assist growers in staying compliant in all ways – testing below thresholds, following testing regulations, following decontamination rules.
We’re a brand new industry in Oklahoma, with a massive amount of growers, very few labs, a high value crop, confusing regulations – it is no surprise cultivators want to move through this process as quickly as possible and choose the path of least resistance. But enforcement always catches up eventually, and you don’t want to be the one they make an example out of.
By Josh Kule