Colorado grapples with effort to create the first state marijuana regulations

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By Kristen Wyatt
Saturday, November 27, 2010

DENVER - What's in that joint, and how can you be sure it's safe?

Colorado is working toward becoming the first state to regulate production of medical marijuana. Regulators say that pot consumers deserve to know what they're smoking and that producers should have safety regulations such as pesticide limits for plants destined for human consumption.

Right now, patients have no way to verify pot-shop claims that certain products are organic, or how potent a strain might be.

"You don't go into a Walgreens with a headache and put on a blindfold and pick something off a shelf. But that's what some people are doing when they buy marijuana," said Buckie Minor of Full Spectrum Laboratories in Denver, which performs voluntary marijuana analysis for about 100 growers and dispensaries.

Minor and others in the pot business say industry standards are needed. But Colorado officials are having a tough time writing regulations for a product that's never been scrutinized or safety-tested before.

New Mexico requires marijuana products to be labeled by strain and potency, and is planning by the end of the year to allow health inspectors to review samples. But currently none of the 14 states that allow medical marijuana regulate how it's grown.

"There's no experience with this," said Alan Shackelford, a Denver physician heading up Colorado's effort to write labeling and safety regulations for medical marijuana.

Colorado hopes to have in place by early next year some sort of labeling and inspection standard for marijuana sold commercially, under provisions of a new state law. But it's a daunting task. Physicians, pot shop owners and state regulators all say standards are needed but guidelines don't exist. Some of the considerations include:

l Should marijuana sellers be able to attach medical claims to their products? What if no research exists to back up a claim that a certain strain of pot is best for, say, pain or nausea?

l Should medical pot be labeled by potency? Patients using over-the-counter and prescription drugs can read the medicine's ingredients, but no analogy exists for pot's active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

"Given the lack of USDA or other oversight of this agricultural industry, we're at square one," Shackelford said when introducing proposed regulations recently.

According to regulators and physicians on the committee to establish regulations under the new law, the recommendations are likely to include basic labeling requirements, including potency. The regulations are also likely to call for pot growers to submit random samples for state testing and rules for labeling pot products "organic."

Shackelford says he'll borrow from federal tobacco regulations for limits on chemicals that can be used in material to be smoked or ingested.

- Associated Press


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