In 2023, Colorado witnessed a significant rise in health and safety advisories issued by the state's Marijuana Enforcement Division, leading to a surge in product recalls. Growers are expressing frustration, arguing that the contamination thresholds set by regulators are unreasonably low. The conflict underscores the challenges faced by the industry, which is grappling with economic hardships amid declining sales and prices.
The escalating recalls began before 2023 but intensified when the state initiated testing for Aspergillus, a fungus that, in rare cases, can pose serious health risks, particularly to immunocompromised marijuana users. Colorado's regulators assert that the potential danger of these contaminants outweighs the inconveniences faced by growers and dispensaries.
Aspergillus, known to cause the lung infection Aspergillosis, has been linked to a few fatalities outside the state related to cannabis use, according to Brandon Jeffery, director of Marijuana Sciences at the Marijuana Enforcement Division. The controversy revolves around determining acceptable contamination levels, with the industry arguing that current standards are too stringent.
The state's testing requirements were established through a thorough public process, acknowledging the ongoing discussion about their appropriateness. However, the industry contends that reevaluation may be necessary to strike a balance between safety and practicality.
The challenge of regulating a substance deemed illegal at the federal level further complicates the issue. Unlike the Federal Food and Drug Administration, which allocates over $7 billion for ensuring consumer product safety, states like Colorado lack comparable resources for overseeing marijuana safety.
Recalls have surged in recent years, with 17 health and safety advisories issued by the Marijuana Enforcement Division in 2023 alone, the highest in seven years. Industry representatives argue that the current standards for all forms of marijuana products are excessively stringent, making compliance difficult.
Kevin Gallagher, executive director of the Colorado Cannabis Manufacturers Association, deems the current standards almost impossible to meet, emphasizing the need for a reevaluation. Meanwhile, scientists acknowledge the challenges in eliminating ubiquitous microbes but stress the importance of managing contaminants like Aspergillus, particularly for medical marijuana users with compromised immune systems.
While the industry is experiencing economic downturns, experts caution against relaxing safety standards. Tess Eidem, a microbiologist and senior research scientist at CU Boulder, advocates for not only stringent testing but also comprehensive facility design regulations to proactively control the growth of contaminants throughout the cultivation process.
In light of recent recalls, including those for products sold as far back as 2020, the industry is navigating economic challenges while facing increased testing standards. Despite the hardships, experts believe that adopting and adhering to stringent safety principles can yield long-term benefits, ensuring better quality and healthier plants.