Nobody wants mold in their weed. Any of it. And while the Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office requires testing of cannabis for mold, the only mold tested for is aspergillus. Aspergillus is highly common, but there are many types of mold and yeast, and the humidity of a marijuana grow provides an ideal habitat. Based on close observations made by staff at the Wasilla cannabis dispensary Green Jar, it appears a lot of AMCO approved cannabis has a type of mold that is slipping through the cracks. I had a chance to speak with Green Jar’s procurement officer, Jeff Devon.
What is happening with AMCO that is causing your concern?
About, probably two and a half months ago, as we were intaking a pound of flower, one of our employees, who is a grower himself, comes back…and I’m just weighing it out, I had just paid the cultivator and he had left and I’m just weighing it out, and he notices something on the bud and he says, “Hey, look at this,” and I can’t see anything when he shows it to me. He shows me this thing and I say I can’t see it, but, I know that we’ve got this microscope gathering dust upstairs. Like, “well, shit, let’s bust it out, we’ve been waitin’ for an opportunity to use it.”
So we get that open, and it turns out that it is, what we are pretty sure is Botrytis cinerea. Basically it is bud rot, or gray mold. Uh, this is the same kind of mold that grows on your strawberries if you leave them in the fridge for too long. So that fuzzy, kind of greyish whitish mold, depending on, there’s a couple different species of it, and so—and let me tell you, too, I’ve been in cannabis for going on sixteen years now, so I’ve been around for a little bit before, so I’m no stranger to bud rot when you see it, when you’re actually growing. It’s a natural thing, it’s very common, it’s probably the most common thing that can affect cannabis. You know there’s a bunch of different molds and yeasts and mildews and stuff, like you might have heard of powdery mildew, or PM, that’s a particularly bad one, and there’s a bunch of things, bugs, all sorts of things can infest the cannabis plant.
This bud rot happens to be one of the most common…so I’m no stranger to seeing this stuff but, it was schocking to me to see it on a product, um, where like this product had passed testing, this was someone we’d worked with regularly, you know, so to see something like this and have it brought to my attention I was, I was a little bit shocked. But, basically, he brought that to my attention, we looked at it under the microscope and saw that it was in fact mold and I was like, “Holy shit. I, would never have even noticed that.”
So, we immediately put in place a new set of procedures where every single flower pound, any flower that comes into our store, is broken down and inspected under the microscope. We can’t do obviously the whole pound, we can’t look through every nug but, we are pretty confident where, usually if this is a problem it’s in the really big nugs, it sits right in the center of the bud where there’s really no air flow um, cause the stuff really likes humidity. So, we break down a few of the largest buds in the batch, we usually go for like three to five, look at ‘em under a microscope, that’s kind of the spot sample that we do, on the spot while the cultivator is still present so we can be sure, and they can be sure too, that this product is clean and it’s safe to consume, because, there’s evidence this stuff is not good to consume. There’s evidence that even with heat, like hitting it with a lighter doesn’t necessarily kill the spores, so, it’s really, regardless of whether or how dangerous it actually is, we are a legal industry and we have standards to live up to and there shouldn’t be mold, in any form, in any sort of weed that you’re consuming.
So, that’s pretty much what’s been going on. We’ve implemented this new procedure, and in doing so, we work with probably twenty-five to thirty grows, I would say, and we don’t have a grow of our own, we are just a retail store so we rely on supply chain if you will, to get our products to us. So I’ve worked with twenty-five to thirty grows and, in the time, the two months that we’ve implemented this, I have found and rejected it [mold] in almost twenty different pounds, twenty different strains from, twenty different cultivators we that we work with so-
Pounds that have all been approved by AMCO?
And all of this stuff has passed testing. So, the issues are, that the testing that is required, we test for five things, there’s three types of aspergillus, so we check for those three things. We test for e. coli, we test for salmonella. Which is great. You know, we should be testing for those things ‘cause you definitely don’t want that stuff on the product you’re consuming but, there is so much room for other things to get through as I’m clearly seeing in this product. It’s all passed testing, it’s all good to go, and if I didn’t look at it and take the time to go through it this stuff would be on the market and being consumed by customers right now. And it’s especially with everything with COVID and everything like that you don’t want to have anybody’s respiratory system any more in any sort of danger or you know, your immune system trying to protect you from, from other foreign material when, there’s all this crazy shit going around anyway.
So that’s what’s been going on. So that’s really the thing. I know that, uh, the stuff that they do test for, aspergillus, is extremely common, it’s found in the soil and it’s not necessarily the best metric that we should be testing for. And so I met with Jessica out at Land & Seas lab out here in Wasilla, and she actually has some really great solutions that she has been trying to get put forward with AMCO, which is to rescind the testing for aspergillus, and this is from our conversation so I may not be getting this exactly right, but I believe what she’s trying to do is she is trying to get AMCO to take away the testing for aspergillus because it is such a common thing and instead test for a blanket mold and yeast level throughout the entire product. That way, you’re not looking for the specific DNA of just these things, you’re looking for anything that’s gonna, you know hit that threshold. It’s gonna make sure that product is clean from, from everything. But then even with that, that gives a whole other host of issues because you’re taking a couple gram samples to represent multiple pounds of cannabis. There’s supposed to be random sampling but, you know, you’re kind of taking people’s word for it that they are randomly selecting and they’re not going through and thoroughly making sure that that single nug that they submit for testing is absolutely perfect, you know what I mean? So, there’s, there’s definitely some areas for improvement. As of right now, too, I haven’t brought this up in any sort of public setting, I haven’t gone to the board, I haven’t, I haven’t gone to any meetings and presented this yet mainly because we really wanted to kind of get our ducks in a row. I have put together like a little packet of information and I’ve gone around to the local retail stores and kind of presented my findings, shown them our microscope and actually given them copies of our S.O.P.’s that we use to inspect the cannabis with hopes that they can implement this procedure like today. Like here, here’s a microscope, here’s exactly what we do, like, you guys can start doing this right now.
Because the cannabis you’re turning down is presumably going somewhere else.
That’s the other problem too. So now we’ve rejected something, we’ve found it, and while the cultivator’s still here we’ve taken a sample of this bud and I’ve found [mold] in multiple buds, so there’s a probably fair chance that it’s in other nugs in this batch. So, there’s that chance, I can’t risk that, I can’t put our customers at risk and I really don’t want to, honestly, ruin the grower’s reputation, or our reputation. So there’s a whole bunch of things in play when we’re doing this. We’re really trying just to keep everybody safe and happy, everybody, cultivators included. But, some of them don’t necessarily see it that way but that’s OK, you’re about to have pushback. But honestly, the overwhelming majority of cultivators, every single one except for one has been absolutely supportive in our efforts, and some of them are using this like a badge of honor, like, they tell their other retail stores, like “Yeah, it’s on the shelf at Green Jar. So you know it’s good. If they’ve got it it’s OK.”
So, as much as it’s been a bit stressful I really am, very proud of our team here and that we are kind of paving the way in this kind of thing because everybody, as we get on and work with people and stuff that maybe we haven’t seen ‘em in a while. And maybe they come in and see this new procedure that we’re doing, it’s, we’re the only ones doing this, and that’s why really I wanted to get that information out to the local retail stores because like you were saying, so, I reject this, I reject this pound cause I found mold in it, it goes right back to the cultivator. Which in a sense is a good thing because if I had already accepted that pound in METRC, which is the state tracking system, so I go into the computer and I say yes, this product is now in our inventory, and the whole, the state AMCO and everybody can see that, if I do that and then I find something and have a problem with it, you can’t send anything back.
I don’t know why, I don’t know why they make it so difficult, but you are not allowed to send the flower back to a cultivator. You’re not allowed to send it to a manufacturer to get remediated and cleaned up because that’s what should happen to product that is affected with mold. There’s ways to clean it up.
Through the use of filters and solvents and other things like that to, to clean it and make it a safe product to consume, but it’s gotta go through those channels. But the problem is you have to wait for approval, you have to email the director, you have to wait for approval. You know, I’m not trying to talk a bunch of shit about AMCO but, you know, I know they got a lot of shit going on too, they got politics to deal with but, sometimes you don’t even get a response.
The issue is you can’t transfer anything back so, if, if I find this and I reject it it’s actually better because it goes back to them, no questions asked, and they have the ability to then get it over to a manufacturer and get it cleaned up.
But the problem is, now, it’s just right back to them and they don’t have to do that if they don’t want to, they can just repack it and send it right down the road, to the next retail store that doesn’t know that I just found mold in a handful of the nugs that I just looked at.
As difficult as it has been, you know, it’s not easy telling people they got mold, trust me. But, difficult as it has been, it’s been, overall a very, a positive experience and people are learning from it, and that’s what we’re really trying to do, just trying to let people know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people go, “I’ve passed testing. What do you mean? What is this? I’ve passed testing,” and I tell them, we don’t test for a whole handful of shit, and they’re blown away.
That’s the issue too is the, the knowledge base I guess, sometimes the people in business don’t necessarily know what it is.
And two, one more thing that has to do with the whole testing, we absolutely should be testing for pesticides. I think, you know it got swept under the rug a little bit but there was that whole scandal with Ron Bass, and Calm N Collective out in Houston, spraying Eagle-20 all over his plants. That, as much as this mold is a health concern and it’s something we should be worried about, that is one hundred percent, should be on the list.
And I think, there’s a public safety seat on the board, right? One of the seats on the board is supposed to be the public safety seat and, I think that it’s time for some accountability in that sense. Like, we need to do something about testing. It’s a huge issue.
Jeff says this is about learning together as a community, and consumer awareness. It’s uncomfortable to face the prospect of mold in the weed people have been consuming, but hopefully having the issue in the open will lead to a healthier testing system in Alaska.