Discrepancy Between Cannabis Sales, Testing Rates Raises Eyebrows in Montana

One of Montana’s main cannabis testing labs shut its doors amid concerns over testing accuracy.

Stillwater Laboratories owners Ron and Kristine Brost expressed apprehension that the state’s software system, METRC, could unintentionally approve excessive quantities of the crop without proper testing. They told the Daily Montanan they expected a spike in testing with the surge in statewide sales following the introduction of recreational cannabis. However, they believe the testing volume hasn’t matched the sales numbers.

One of the critical issues raised by the Brosts was that laboratories have indirectly been tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the substance’s legality, primarily due to federal restrictions. Similar challenges in testing oversight have been noted in other states, including California and Colorado.

“They’ve used the labs as proxy regulators because they don’t want to touch the stuff,” Kristine Brost told the outlet.

Nathan Kosted, who used to work at Stillwater Labs, linked some of the concerns to the transition of program oversight from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Revenue. He highlighted a potential shift in focus towards tax collection rather than health safety.

“(The DOR’s) purpose is tax collection,” Kosted said. “They haven’t seen anyone vomiting or freaking out. The DOR is in the business of regulating income and taxation.”

In response to the METRC software issues, Kristan Barbour, the director of the state’s cannabis program, agreed that adapting the tool to fit Montana’s unique regulations has been challenging. But she stressed ongoing efforts to address the discrepancies, including the formation of a Cannabis Control Division Inspection Unit.

Stillwater Labs also voiced concerns with other labs over the apparent disparity between the rise in sales and the amount tested.

“Based on the revenue that the DOR is collection, there should be two to three times more marijuana being tested than is currently,” Ron Brost said.

“None of these numbers are lining up. None of the labs are adding up,” Kristine Brost added. “We have no idea where the extra (sales) volume is coming from.”

Providing data to the outlet, Barbour stated there was a 29% uptick in samples tested between 2021 to 2022, aligning with the period when recreational use became legal in Montana.

A Missoula Republican, state Rep. Mike Hopkins, who played a pivotal role in 2023’s cannabis legislation, still lauded Montana’s approach to legalizing adult-use cannabis. He believes the state’s transition has been more seamless than in states like Colorado or California and underscored the significance of sound policies and procedures over the specific tools or departments in charge.

“The state had to set up this whole new industry, and it’s currently working very well,” he told the Montanan. “That doesn’t mean the discussion or conversation will end.”

“You know, I look at it: Government is government. You can have whatever name you want and whatever agency. It’s about the standards and the practice. Are they doing a good job? And I think they are,” Hopkins said.

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