A legislative committee gave final approval Tuesday to a regulatory change adjusting the allowable amount of mold and yeast in the medical marijuana supply.
Connecticut has two laboratories that test medical marijuana. The change, proposed by the Department of Consumer Protection and ratified by the Legislative Regulation Review Committee, means an increase in the total allowable amount of mold and yeast for cannabis tested at one lab and a decrease for the other.
The regulations now allow for no traceable levels of a particular breed of mold called Aspergillus, known to cause lung infections, and a total count of other yeast and mold of 100,000 colony-forming units per gram. Patients had advocated for a limit of 10,000 units per gram.
The state officially proposed the change at the end of last year, arguing that testing standards evolve after new research is published, but patients objected because of concerns about the product’s safety. The state initially changed the total limit at a request from one of the state’s labs and adjusted it after patient outcry so both labs would have the same levels.
State officials say the change is safe. Standards vary state by state — some have lower yeast and mold thresholds, but not all require testing for the Aspergillus mold.
Representatives from both of the state’s laboratories said they support the change, but Mike Esposito, a scientist at MCR Labs in Massachusetts, told the CT Mirror last month it could allow harmful materials to persist in the substance and cause lung damage to patients and employees who work with cannabis.
“It really was super disheartening to just see this … domino effect of just yes, yes, yes,” said Duncan Markovich, of the vote. Markovich is the owner of Better Ways, a cannabis therapeutics store in Branford.
Lou Rinaldi, a patient advocate in Connecticut, said Aspergillus is not the only safety concern, pointing out that patients — many of whom may be immunocompromised — could have mold allergies.
Members of the patient community are organizing to raise awareness and educate other patients about the regulation change.
Patients are also concerned about transparency within the program because of state regulators’ decision in 2020 to quietly approve a request from AltaSci, one of the state’s two labs that test cannabis, to increase its total limit to 1 million colony-forming units per gram with the Aspergillus rule. Under the regulation change, that level will drop.
State officials approved the change in an email exchange with the lab and did not alert patients. The official proposal to change the limits came after patients spoke out at meetings and in social media posts about the 2020 decision.
Northeast Laboratories left its limit at 10,000 colony forming units per gram.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, legislators mentioned that patients had contacted them regarding the change and said they hope to address the regulations further in a working group next legislative session.
“It’s a good starting point for us,” said Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, co-chair of the Legislative Regulation Review Committee. “We can go back and propose legislation and have the working group look at this a little further to make changes.”
Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour, added that there aren’t federal guidelines for states to follow because cannabis hasn’t been legalized at a national level.
Comments on the proposed change during the meeting lasted just a few minutes, and most legislators who spoke expressed agreement with the adjustment.
“I think the Department of Consumer Protection is definitely on the right track, and we should definitely approve this and move forward,” said Rep. Tom Arnone, D-Enfield.
The Department of Consumer Protection brought in Sherman Hom, director of regulatory affairs for Medicinal Genomics, on May 10 to speak with committee members and answer their questions. DCP Commissioner Michelle Seagull was also present, said department spokeswoman Kaitlyn Krasselt.
Rinaldi said he wants to see more patient involvement in decisions about the program.
“I would like something a little bit more concrete than vague open-ended promises to bring community leaders to the table,” Rinaldi said.
The state also changed the method of testing for cannabis from a plating method to a qPCR. The new method, which labs will have six months to implement, is DNA-based and is more specific, according to state documents.
The proposal went through a public comment period that ended in February, and the attorney general approved it in March.