October 16, 2018
By: Eliza Larson
Click here to read the original article at KITV.com

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"I don't think it was any fault of industry," said our source. "Because those processes lack a lot of standardization."

Is the weed you need in Hawaii clean and safe? An employee of Hawaii's Department of Health, who wishes to remain anonymous, says no.

Mold, yeast, and other contaminates are found on medical marijuana grown here in Hawaii, but even when it's detected, our source says they could still end up in the product you take home.

"It's very disturbing to hear the department state over and over again about patient quality, product safety, when actually through my experience, its kind of, like, not the case."

After the marijuana leaves are grown in certified facilities, a batch is selected for testing. If a sample from that batch passes, the whole batch gets made into products for sale.

But our source says more than a third of the samples were failing for mold and yeast at one point and claims even those failed samples can still wind up getting turned into product.

"What I have heard is that industry was told specifically by the Department of Health that they're allowed to process product that failed mold and yeast standards."

KITV4 Island News requested the quality assurance test results for the samples taken from Hawaii dispensaries in 2018. What we found were many that did fail mold and yeast tests.

"it's a problem that is a common occurrence to the industry here and on the mainland," said Keith Ridley, who oversees the DOH's medical cannabis dispensary program and serves as chief for the Office of Health Care Assurance.

Ridley said mold is common in tropical climates like Hawaii's but certified growing facilities have developed systems to avoid it.

He says failed batches - or any final product that does not pass the very rigorous test requirements - must be destroyed.

Sounds definitive, but according to the state's administrative rules, there's a way around it: remediation. That's where the dispensary treats the failed batch with something like ultraviolet light or carbon dioxide, or dries it out, then provides another sample for testing.

"All of these techniques kill off yeast, mold, bacteria, and so they, at that point, contact us for sampling again and we'll come out and sample a fresh batch," said Will English, laboratory director at Pharmlabs Hawaii LLC.

If it fails again? Remediate and retest.

English says Pharmlab's tests are expensive. About $750 each. He works with the dispensaries to determine if remediation and retesting is worth it. He says with product as valuable as marijuana, it often is.

According to English, since the sample is a small portion of the batch, even when it passes, there could be contamination that gets missed by the test.

Ridley said so far there are no known cases of medical cannabis card holders who got sick after consuming products. According to experts at Hawaii's John A Burns School of Medicine some people are allergic to certain molds and the various kinds of molds differ in their side effects.

Our source says that's worrisome.

"You cannot use an unwholesome product especially to be used as a quote unquote medicine for people with debilitating medical conditions."

Ridley assures that all products sold in Hawaii are safe, but he acknowledges the process is not fool-proof.

"As rigorous and as detailed and as lengthy as our inspection process is, we're not kidding ourselves that it's perfect," he said.

This is why the state's created a working group, to give the state legislature recommendations on how to take the industry into the future. English said the labs would follow any recommendation made.

KITV4 is working on a follow up story with the people in the medical marijuana industry.