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State testing finds 42% contamination rate in medical marijuana samples

FILE - This April 22, 2016, file photo shows a marijuana bud at a medical marijuana facility in Unity, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
In this Dec. 13, 2017 file photo, a marijuana plant grows under artificial light at an indoor facility in Portland, Maine. Testing of medical marijuana samples collected in August found 42% were contaminated with harmful substances.

In a first of its kind audit, investigators collected samples in August from 120 registered caregivers and dispensaries from across Maine.

Testing revealed a variety of contaminants, including yeast and mold, pesticides, and heavy metals. Some samples had multiple contaminants. Several contained a pesticide that releases cyanide gas upon combustion and causes a range of mild to severe effects when inhaled.

John Hudak, director of the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, said these findings pose a serious risk to the state's more than 100,000 medical marijuana patients.

"Because not only do we know that those contaminants pose risks for healthy individuals," he said, "but for many of those contaminants, those risks are magnified for individuals who are sick and especially those who are immunocompromised."

Unlike the state's adult use cannabis program, the medical cannabis program does not require product testing.

Hudak said under state law, his office also does not have the authority to issue recalls or orders to destroy contaminated product. It also can't make public the names of the contaminated products or where they were found.

He said he hopes this report will spark a policy discussion to address some of these challenges.