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Marijuana legalization raises safety questions

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm •  Published: February 12, 2013
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Colorado and Washington officials are considering going further when it comes to marijuana for sale to all adults, though neither has decided what to do. The states will first have to decide whether to treat marijuana like something that is smoked or something that is eaten.

Colorado currently copies tobacco pesticide regulations to apply to medical marijuana. But regulators rejected a proposal to certify "organic" pot grown without any pesticides, leaving consumers with no way to verify organic processing claims.

Other blank spots facing marijuana product safety:

— Sanitation. Marijuana is a crop difficult to insure, giving unscrupulous growers an incentive to hide moldy or otherwise foul pot rather than throw it away.

— Edible marijuana. There are no food-safety inspections on cannabis-infused food products. Some in the marijuana industry say the public is at risk from ingredients not related to pot, and that salmonella or E. coli outbreaks should be of concern.

— Workplace safety. Marijuana producers say the industry is overdue for worker-safety protections. Of special concern is the production of concentrated marijuana, or hashish, which is frequently produced using butane or other explosive solvents.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the nation's oldest marijuana-legalization advocacy group, says marijuana could be treated like alcohol or like an herbal supplement.

Federal law doesn't require rigorous testing of supplements to prove they are safe, or even that they work. NORML says pot should be treated like echinacea or vitamin C pills, with government product intervention only if consumers get sick or a safety issue comes to light.

"Look at lettuce. Look at cantaloupe. They're regulated a whole lot more than cannabis, but the reality is even with those regulations, you can still have outbreaks. That doesn't mean lettuce and cantaloupe themselves are dangerous," said Paul Armentano, a California-based deputy national director for NORML.

The group doesn't mind that federal agencies aren't helping. Noting that liquor regulations vary from state to state and even town to town, Armentano said a patchwork of marijuana safety regulations is likely.

Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Denver physician who helped write Colorado's medical marijuana safety regulations, said that the absence of federal oversight gives Colorado and Washington big jobs in pioneering consumer safety standards for marijuana.

"Anything that is going to be offered for sale to the public needs to have safety and health standards," Shackelford said. "Time will tell what those should be for marijuana."

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Kristen Wyatt is on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt.