PHOENIX — Almost two hundred thousand people are registered as medical marijuana cardholders in Arizona. That's a lot of people who rely on the plant as medicine, but do they really know what they are inhaling or consuming?
Arizona is one of a handful of states that does not require testing of medical marijuana. There are several laboratories throughout the state that test cannabis to document how strong it is, and what is in it. Scientists say all of the products they test is brought to them by dispensaries and growers, but they worry about the ones who are not showing up to test their products.
Delta Verde is a private testing lab in North Phoenix. Dr. James Clark, the lab director and co-owner of the business, said most of the medical marijuana they tested was to figure out the potency since that is what most clients typically want to know. Many dispensary owners; however, do want to test the medicine they are giving to patients for quality purposes.
Clark said from time to time they made some disturbing discoveries. Everything from mold to fungus, to harmful toxins and bacteria like coliform, and pesticides could end up in your body.
Clark said it was normal for most plant products to have some level of mold or fungus that was not harmful to your body, but in some cases they found levels exceeding that.
"Nobody wants to be ingesting or inhaling pesticide residues," said Dr. Clark.
A regular client who brought items over for testing every month was the Giving Tree Wellness Center, a medical marijuana dispensary off 9th Avenue in north Phoenix.
Owner Lilach Mazor Power said the quality of the medicine she provided for clients was extremely important to her, especially as many of their clients suffered from illnesses that compromised their immune systems. Whether it was chronic pain or Crohn's disease, Power said they had to make sure they provided safe products for their patients.
Jessie Miller, a cultivation manager at the dispensary, said they perform multiple levels of testing on their products before putting them out for sale.
"I believe our patients have the right to know what they're consuming," said Miller. "It's very important for them to have clean medication."
The dispensary spends about $1,500 a month on testing random samples of their product.
At the Arizona state legislature right now, a political standoff is taking place between democrats and republicans over the issue of testing medical Marijuana.
Both sides agree that Marijuana should be tested for contaminants, but despite heated discussions that have taken place for two years now, lawmakers have failed to pass a bill to require this testing.
Dispensary owners say customers have the right to ask for lab reports when they are shopping for products.
At the Giving Tree Wellness Center, you'll find a binder full of reports right behind the counter. If a dispensary fails to show you their lab reports, Clark advised, "buyer beware."
"I would probably not go back to that dispensary," said Clark.
Legislators are expected to take up the issue over the testing of medical marijuana again this session.
One Senate bill has already failed. The argument is over whether this testing should be done by the state Department of Health Services or the Department of Agriculture. You can expect a lot of debate over the issue over the next few months.