Federal dollars are supporting the publication of a recent report that highlights how marijuana prohibition puts cannabis consumers at risk due to the resulting lack of guidance on safety standards from regulators.
The article was published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives, an “an open-access journal published with support from” the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It looked at issues related to regulating cannabis quality, which includes ensuring that the products don’t contain dangerous contaminants such as metals, pesticides and microbes.
“At the federal level in the United States, cannabis is still considered an illegal drug,” the piece notes. “As a result, neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided any guidance on how to regulate contaminants or on which cannabis-related exposures can be considered safe.”
“States have had to determine on their own how to protect millions of cannabis users, and they have come up with widely varying responses,” the report states. “The result is an uncertain and occasionally incoherent regulatory landscape.”
The use of butane to extract marijuana concentrates, the prevalence of microbial contamination and high concentrations of metals are all concerns that federal agencies like the FDA and EPA would presumably address—if cannabis wasn’t a federally banned substance.
There’s at least one recent, relevant example on the issue: EPA announced on Wednesday that it will be approving pesticide applications for hemp, which was federally legalized through the Farm Bill late last year, but such tools will not be approved for marijuana because of its status under federal law.
But as it stands, such regulations are made and enforced at the state-level, meaning there’s a lack of consistency across legal marijuana programs.
“States have become experts at taxing and controlling this industry, and public health and safety has generally been a secondary or even-later-down-the-line consideration,” Ben Gelt, board chair of the Cannabis Certification Council, was quoted as saying in the report. “I think that is shifting, to some degree. I think that these issues are going to inevitably bubble up.”
Considering that instances of contamination have been reported in legalized states, it’s within reason to assume that cannabis consumers in non-legal states face an even greater set of risks given the complete lack of quality control standards.
“No state has it right, and there’s still a long way to go, and there’s still a lot of research that needs to be done,” Gelt said. “All of the states have significant gaps in their policies when it comes to testing and ensuring product quality and quality assurance. It just depends on what state you’re in where the gap is.”
While Environmental Health Perspectives receives support from federal government sources, an article’s appearance in the publication “does not indicate that the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences condones, endorses, approves, or recommends the use of any products, services, materials, methodology, or policies stated therein,” according to a disclaimer on the journal’s website.
“Conclusions and opinions are those of the individual authors and advertisers only and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of Environmental Health Perspectives or the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,” the notice states.
Nonetheless, the irony of federal dollars being spent to circulate a report hosted on a dot gov website that highlights the public health harms of ongoing federal marijuana prohibition was not lost on NORML Political Director Justin Strekal.
“The flat Earth mentality of continuing to deny the fact that a sizable percentage of the public consumes cannabis is hurting our ability to derive evidence-based best practices that put people’s health first,” he said. “It is the height of absurdity that public resources were used to compile a report that essentially states that the government is helpless because they have chained their hands to their sides as a result of prohibition. We demand regulation, not incarceration.”
“When the Congress chooses to get serious about putting public safety ahead of political expediency, they will move one of the various proposals to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act to a vote,” Strekal said.