Contaminated cannabis prompts Vt. testing lab proposal

By FRED THYS

VTDigger

Published: 02-12-2023 9:28 PM

The chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board is recommending that the Legislature fund a state testing laboratory after a batch of cannabis flower contaminated with a fungicide found its way to store shelves last month.

The board issued a recall last week of all cannabis flower from Holland Cannabis, a farm in the town of Holland, after a man reported a headache, stomachache and nausea after smoking some of the flower. The flower was bought at The High Country in Derby.

Matthew Morin, the owner of Holland Cannabis, did not respond to several requests for an interview.

The now-recalled cannabis from Holland was sold at five retailers, according to James Pepper, chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board. The other retailers were Zenbarn Farms in Waterbury, Lamoille Country Cannabis in Morrisville, Capital Cannabis in Montpelier and The Green Man in St. Johnsbury.

Noah Fishman, owner of Zenbarn Farms, said in an email to VTDigger that all the cannabis his store bought from Holland Cannabis came with documentation that it had been tested for pesticides. 

Lauren Andrews, owner of Capital Cannabis, and Zeb Overton, owner of The Green Man, declined to comment. Lamoille County Cannabis did not respond to requests for comment. 

“Was this a problem at this one retailer, or was this everywhere this cannabis was sold?” James Pepper, chair of the Cannabis Control Board, asked. “I have a feeling it’ll be everywhere, but that’s another critical piece of the puzzle.”

“We pulled everything off the shelf,” said Brian Fisher, owner of The High Country. “At this point, we’re giving out refunds to anyone who still has any Holland product.”

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Fisher said when he bought the cannabis flower from Holland Cannabis, it was accompanied by a certificate of analysis indicating only a trace amount of myclobutanil, a prohibited pesticide.

“We had a full testing come back clean,” Fisher said. “So we went ahead and started selling the product.”

Fisher said the contaminated lot came back with a reading that showed .001 parts per million of myclobutanil, according to the certificate of analysis provided by Holland Cannabis. 

“Which is basically clear,” Fisher said. “That means it’s great.”

But after the state cannabis board ordered testing of the contaminated lot, it came back with a reading of 0.1 parts per million — 100 times higher than the certificate of analysis reading given to The High Country — “which is not so good,” Fisher said.

“We had no idea,” he said. “We thought it was tested. We figured it was registered. Everything was ready to go, just like every other transaction we’ve ever dealt with. So hearing about this obviously made us pretty furious.”

Pepper confirmed that the batch sold to The High Country was initially found to be clean. 

“We have that same (certificate of analysis) that says it’s clean,” Pepper said. 

But when the board sent out samples from the same lot after the person reported being sick, it received a different result, Pepper said.

“Clearly, when we took samples, they were not clean, so that’s why I think this next round of testing will be important,” Pepper said.

The board also sent out samples from the other four stores that carry Holland Cannabis and expects those results by the end of the week, Pepper said.

“This really does highlight the need for us to have our own testing capacity in house,” Pepper said. “Just for the health of consumers, we need to have more testing capacity.”

Currently, the board has a contract with Bia Diagnostics in Colchester, but Pepper said the turnaround time for testing the contaminated batch of flower from Holland Cannabis was three business days. He said if the state had its own testing lab, it could cut that turnaround time in half. 

Vermont has three licensed cannabis testing facilities, but not all are certified for testing for pesticides, pathogens and potency, Pepper said. Endyne in Williston does its pesticide testing in New Hampshire, and Steep Hill Vermont Labs in Colchester is not yet certified to test for pesticides, he said. 

Neither Endyne nor Steep Hill Vermont Labs responded to requests for comment. 

State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, said he supports the effort to fund a state lab.

“State-run is probably the best way to do it,” Sears said, adding that the Senate Appropriations Committee is considering a proposal to fund such a lab in the Budget Reconciliation Act.

Fisher said he is asking all his suppliers of cannabis flower to test each strain for pesticides. 

Pepper said the board requires growers to test a representative sample from each lot. 

“The confusing part for us is that this farm is actually an organic farm,” where pesticides aren’t used, Pepper said.

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